* Notes *
A new production of Nixon in China had a Bay Area premiere at San Francisco Opera last night. Lawrence Renes conducted a crisp performance, and for the most part the singers were audible over the amplified orchestra. The amplification of the principals and eight members of the chorus made it difficult to gauge the weight of the voices, creating a more uniform quality. The odd flattening of sound and Alice Goodman's libretto of charming non-sequiturs set to John Adams' memorable tunes make for a rather disorienting but attractive work.
The principal cast is convincing. Patrick Carfizzi is an appropriately disturbing Kissinger. Chen-Ye Yuan sang Chou En-lai sympathetically. Simon O’Neill sounded powerful as Mao Tse-tung, his high notes secure. Maria Kanyova impressed as rather human Pat Nixon, a contrast to Hye Jung Lee (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) as Chiang Ch'ing, at least in Act II. Lee is outrageously talented, her voice flexible and lyrical. She could be frightening without ever producing an ugly sound, and could purr lines when necessary. The only picky point one could make is that her accent is noticeable in certain words. Brian Mulligan may not perfectly embody Nixon, being a tad too young, but his movements and expressions are persuasive. Mulligan has an appealing voice, its richness is perhaps dulled by the amplification and the high tessitura of the part.
Michael Cavanagh's direction suits the opera rather nicely, not too literal with pleasant touches of whimsy. The set, from Erhard Rom, is uncluttered and lit expertly by Christopher Maravich. The projections, by Sean Nieuwenhuis, make novel use of space. The fluttering flags are a bit contrived, not to mention boring, but most of the other images are effective. Wen Wei Wang's choreography is acrobatic and the soloists are especially accomplished dancers.
* Tattling *
Fifteen minutes before the performance, David Gockley gave a toast to the press corps covering the opening with Schramsberg sparkling wine, as this was served at the banquet depicted in the opera.
A loud mobile phone rang twice in center section of the Orchestra Ring during Act II It also rang just before Act III started.
During the first intermission I checked out the "Photo Corner" at San Francisco Opera, where one is meant to take pictures and upload them to Facebook or Twitter to be entered into a drawing.