Going behind the scenes with the pre-production crew at the Met as they prepare to transmit a New York opera to thousands of theatergoers around the world
On February 21, 1972, when Richard Nixon visited China, the technology used to beam the welcoming party around the planet and back to the United States was state-of-the-art. Nixon made sure of it. As the presidential plane, the Spirit of '76, descended the gray Peking skies, a satellite hook-up installed in China by White House staffers waited to capture and disseminate "the key picture of the whole trip," as the president called it.
The picture became an icon of Realpolitik, in spite of the fuss. On the ground, the scene was composed of brilliant blues (the Chinese premier Chou En-lai's long ceremonial coat and the president's business suit), subversive reds (the plane's airstairs and the far away banners), and, less conspicuously, the drab green worn by the 500 Chinese honor guards in attendance. There were stars on the soldier's caps and on the American and Chinese flags that hung over the proceedings. But most crucially for Nixon, there were two pair of hands clasped, his and Chou's -- West glad-handing East.
The scene came together without a hitch, like something from a double proscenium, even if the details didn't register as clearly as the president might have liked for many of the folks back in the U.S. One viewer in Nixon's home state of California, a 25-year-old music student named John Adams, watched the event on a little black and white set, the figures of Nixon and Chou floating as a single shape on Adams' screen.