Henry Kissinger
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John Adams: Nixon in China

I got the rare chance to interview Henry Kissinger. Henry doesn’t do many interviews these days, but since he’s in San Diego for a few weeks, he relented.

Okay, in truth, Patrick Carfizzi, who is portraying Kissinger at San Diego Opera, gave us an interview. Which opera could possibly have Henry Kissinger in it? Nixon in China by John Adams.

San Diego Reader: I think a lot of people know Kissinger and what he was about but he’s still a kind of a gray figure to me. Was he a good guy or was he bad guy? It seems he's got a sinisterness about him, but it’s really — maybe I’m making that up, I don’t know.

Patrick Carfizzi: Kissinger was a backroom operator. He was one of the many politicians that derived a lot of their success, a lot of their power, from the work that they did behind the scenes. And that’s what’s made Kissinger kind of — that’s been the power of Kissinger for decades and decades. That’s why Kissinger is still testifying before Congress, even a month ago. Which is kind of strange. But then, the Lao Tzu in the second act, that interpretation, for me, is a commentary on the body politic and a social commentary really more than a commentary on Henry. I mean, Henry is not that level of evil — is not that level of dark evil.

SDR: Okay. So, I haven’t explored it at all, what is the Lao Tzu?

PC: I mean, in this case, the Lao Tzu is the ruler of the pre-Communist China plantation. He is that symbol. You know, is that symbol of all that is wrong in the world and all that is wrong in politics and wrong in society played out for all to see.

SDR: So it’s a dual role? Is it like in a Venus/Elizabeth type thing in Lohengrin?

PC: Well no, it’s still Henry but he has been transformed into Lao Tzu for that purpose [portraying the previous Chinese society].

SDR: Have you done several of these?

PC: Second one.

SDR: How was the reception from the previous run of the show?

PC: People tend to really enjoy the show. It’s very engaging; it moves very, very well; it’s very well put together. From audience members, in general, the reaction is very positive. People are very engaged; people are curious and interested in seeing this kind of history play out — especially very recent history. In San Francisco, we didn’t have people fleeing from the seats. You know, we didn’t — you wouldn’t look out in the house during the second or third act and see a half-empty theater, you know, where people had kind of lost interest in the piece. No, they maintained interest in the piece. I think it’s tribute to the work that they’ve done. They really have — the construction of the piece is really kind of brilliant.

SDR: If we look at Western interaction with China over the centuries, it’s kind of the same thing again. Americans instead of the British or the Portuguese before that, or even Marco Polo.

PC: The cycle seems to keep repeating. And it’s definitely, from my perception, it’s definitely cultural. I mean, it is in a big way, East meets West for better or for worse. It is kind of fascinating to see how that history repeats, and repeats, and repeats, and repeats. None of the different Western cultures seem to learn. They all go to China — they all go to the East — with an idea of either some kind of collaboration or trade or something, and inevitably it gets turned back at them. The policy of détente is what Kissinger went to China with but even that was turned on him. Even that was kind of turned back on him. It’s a nice little philosophy to have in the classroom, but I’m not necessarily sure it worked in practical reality.

The interview continues in Part 2.

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