Alison Jones's Opera Plot Summaries.

John Adams:
Nixon in China

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 92


Scene 1. The airfield outside Peking, February 21, 1972

Awaiting the arrival of President Nixon, members of the Chinese army, navy and air force sing The Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points of Attention. The presidential jet arrives and Nixon and Mrs Nixon disembark, to be met by Premier Chou-En-lai, who introduces Nixon to the waiting dignitaries as the president reflects on the world-shattering implications of his visit.

Scene 2. Chairman Mao Tse-tung's study

The Nixons, Henry Kissinger and Chou-En-lai are ushered into the study where Mao is waiting. After an exchange of compliments there is a photographic session. Nixon introduces world politics, but Mao turns the subject, saying that such matters are for the premier; his business is philosophy, and after confiding that his favorite Western politicians are right-wingers, he indulges in some philosophical flights of fancy.

Scene 3. The great Hall of the People, evening of the same day

The Nixons are being feted at a state banquet. Chou En-lai proposes a toast to Nixon, in which he looks forward to the day when all patriots will be brothers again. Nixon responds, noting that this meeting is being broadcast to the world and looking forward to peace. As the evening becomes more relaxed, more toasts are proposed.


Scene 1. February 22, morning, on tour with Mrs Nixon

Having shaken hands with the kitchen workers at the Peking Hotel, Pat Nixon is given a glass elephant at a glass factory and reflects on its significance (as the symbol of the Republican Party). She is shown a clinic, pig farms and a school, where she greets the children. Under the Gate of Longevity and Good Will she prophesies that a time will come when luxury gives way to the simple virtues. She is then escorted to the Ming tombs.

Scene 2. Evening, at the opera

The Nixons are entertained with a performance of an opera/ballet, The Red Detachment of Women, devised by Madame Mao. Three young women are in chains in the lock-up of an estate, awaiting the coming of the landlord's factotum, Lao Szu (played by the singer who plays Kissinger), who torments them. The leader, Ching-hua, seizes his whip and escapes. She is pursued by troops, and meets Lao Szu again. When he tries to beat her, Mrs Nixon rushes on stage, followed by the President. They remain on stage through a rain storm. The party representative enters looking for recruits and Mrs Nixon assists him to raise the prostrate Ching-Hua. The red detachment of women arrives and Ching-Hua joins them. When the scene changes to the tyrant's mansion, Nixon throws money to the guards.

Lao Szu orders the girls to entertain them, but, led by Ching-hua and urged on by Madame Mao, who also joins the action, they overcome their oppressors.

Madame Mao sings a defiant aria, extolling the revolution.

ACT III. The last night

The Nixons, in their room (plus the other characters), reflect on their past lives - e.g., Nixon's World War II experiences, Pat waiting at home.

Mao Tse-tung and his wife reflect on revolutionary theory and practice, while Chou En-lai's meditations are more elegiac.

Daniel François Auber:
Fra Diavolo

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Apr 78


The courtyard of an inn at Terracina, on the road from Rome to Naples. An afternoon in the first part of the 19th century

A band of dragoons has been unsuccessfully chasing the notorious bandit Fra Diavolo and they stop off at the inn to refresh themselves. They are welcomed by Matteo, the innkeeper, and the girls of the village.

Only Lorenzo, the captain of the dragoons, is out of spirits. He is in love with the innkeepers's pretty daughter, Zerlina, but Matteo is not going to give her to a penniless soldier. To her great distress, since she returns Lorenzo's love, Matteo is planning to marry her at once to the richest man in the district and invites the company to the wedding.

A rich Englishman, Lord Allcash, and his wife Lady Pamela arrive in great disarray. They are the latest victims of Fra Diavolo's robber band. Lord Allcash offers a large reward for the recovery of Lady Pamela's stolen jewels. Lady Pamela, discovering Zerlina's love for Lorenzo, instructs her husband to make the reward much larger, confident that Lorenzo will win it and the young lovers will be able to marry. She blames her husband for the robbery because he insisted on taking side roads instead of the main highway. He explains irritably that he did this in order to get away from "that pestilential fellow" who had been following them around. Lady Pamela replies that she found him most attractive.

Their argument is interrupted by the arrival of a carriage bearing the pestilential fellow himself, the Marquis of San Marco (Fra Diavolo in disguise). Zerlina tells him that the English lord is in a bad temper because they have been robbed and sings them the ballad of Fra Diavolo, assisted by the bandit himself.

Two very strange-looking characters turn up, and are revealed as Giacomo and Beppo, members of Fra Diavolo's band, come to report on the success of their latest venture: the robbery of Lord and Lady Allcash. When the bandits are alone, Giacomo and Beppo explain that although they had taken Lady Pamela's jewels, they had been unable to find the large sum of money Lord Allcash was known to be carrying around with him. Fra Diavolo resigns himself to the idea of singing more barcarolles with the susceptible Lady Pamela, since it was by making up to her that he got the information about her jewels.

As soon as Lady Pamela appears he puts his plan into action. He notices that she still has one jewel left, a beautiful locket, and manages to remove it on the pretence that it will be a keepsake. When Lord Allcash joins tham Fra Diavolo is able to flatter him into a good enough humor to reveal that the money had been sewn into the stays of Lord and Lady Allcash.

Cheering by the villagers ushers in Lorenzo and his men who have found some of the robber band and recovered the stolen jewels. The reward is handed over - not to Lorenzo, who refuses it saying he has only done his duty, but to Zerlina.


Inside the inn, late that night

Zerlina prepares Lord and Lady Allcash's bedroom, rejoicing that at last her father will have to let her marry Lorenzo. When Lord and Lady Allcash are preparing to go to bed, he notices that her locket is missing.

She evades his questions, telling him it is his bedtime.

When they have settled for the night, Fra Diavolo creeps in to see how the land lies, and summons Giacomo and Beppo. While they are plotting Zerlina comes back, ready to go to bed herself. They hide hastily - in her bedroom. As she prepares for sleep she sings a happy song about her prospective marriage.

As soon as she is in bed the bandits prepare to move again, but are interrupted once more, this time by Lorenzo, who has returned with a peasant who knows Fra Diavolo by sight and has seen him making for Terracina that day.

Lord Allcash is awakened by the noise and Fra Diavolo is discovered. To get rid of two enemies at once he whispers to Lord Allcash that he has an assignation with Lady Pamela and to Lorenzo that he has a rendezvous with Zerlina.Lord Allcash threatens instant divorce and Lorenzo accuses Zerlina of treachery, much to her astonishment and distress. Both offended gentlemen challenge Fra Diavolo to a duel. Lord Allcash lets Lorenzo have first go and Fra Diavolo agrees to meet him early next morning.


A rocky glen, early the next morning

Fra Diavolo arrives early for his meeting with Lorenzo, but he has no intention of fighting a duel, intending instead to have Lorenzo ambushed by his men. He reflects on the joys of the life of a bandit chief. Leaving a note for Giacomo and Beppo he goes off.

The villagers, dressed in their finery, arrive on the way to celebrate Zerlina's wedding to the richest man in the district, whom her father had gone off to fetch the night before. When they have gone Giacomo and Beppo appear and find the letter which instructs them to give a signal to their leader when the coast is clear. As Lorenzo arrives, they hide, watching while he laments his sad fate, being, as he believes, betrayed by Zerlina.

The wedding party comes back and Zerlina, who has taken one horrified look at her prospective bridegroom, tries to get Lorenzo to tell her why he is behaving so strangely.

Gaicomo and Beppo recognise Zerlina and mockingly sing the song they heard her singing as she undressed the night before. Zerlina is at first astonished, then delighted, on the grounds that if two men had been hiding in her room without her knowledge this proved that she could not have been having an assignation with a third. Lorenzo is convinced anyway and the lovers are reconciled.

Meanwhile the two bandits who have so unwisely revealed themselves are captured and forced to give Fra Diavolo the agreed signal and so he walks into the trap.

To the great amazement of all, particularly Lady Pamela, the notorious bandit is revealed as the same person as the Marquis of San Marco and is given his just deserts, which vary according to the tastes of the producer and are not to be revealed in advance.

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