Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Nixon in China (Act I Scene 2 pictured left with Chen-Ye Yuan as Chou En-lai, Ginger Costa-Jackson as Nancy T'ang, Buffy Baggott as Second Secretary, Nicole Birkland as Third Secretary, Simon O'Neill as Mao Tse-tung, Patrick Carfizzi as Henry Kissinger, and Brian Mulligan as Richard Nixon; photograph by Cory Weaver) look great.
Nixon in China
* 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.
Michael Schwab has created a poster for San Francisco Opera's upcoming Nixon in China. The opera has a Bay Area premiere on June 8, 2012. Schwab made a lovely poster last year for the Ring. The graphic artist will be signing his work at the San Francisco Opera shop on June 17, 2012, after the performance that afternoon.
* Notes *
Though the fourth performance of Nixon in China at the Metropolitan Opera was simulcast yesterday, the Opera Tattler was nonetheless to be found in Family Circle standing room. While Adrianne Lobel's set was streamlined and efficient, Peter Sellars direction seemed overblown. The dancing, choreographed by Mark Morris, was attractive. The lines were good, though not completely exact from dancer to dancer.
The orchestra sounded together under the baton of the composer himself, John Adams, whose sense of timing is apparently impeccable. The chorus too appeared synchronized and clear.
Richard Paul Fink's role of Kissinger may have been small, but he certainly made the most of it. In the title role, James Maddalena looked and moved like Nixon, but he sounded strained and wobbly. Russell Braun sang Chou En-lai with conviction, and Robert Brubaker likewise impressed as Mao Tse-tung. Janis Kelly struck me as a bit shrill at first, but her "This is prophetic!" had great charm. Kathleen Kim was terrifying as Chiang Ch'ing. Her big aria in Act II was both imposing and arresting.
* Tattling *
The line for standing room was only 20 people deep in the morning, but there were quite a lot of people standing by the time the performance began. The person behind 202 of the last row of the house was not particularly considerate. He encroached so much on the person next to him that she had to ask an usher to intervene. Near the end of the performance, he began to make a great deal of noise as he got himself ready to leave.
I must admit I was not well-behaved either. At intermission I may have been seen "accidentally" tossing someone into one of the lobby walls, after which I collapsed into hysterical giggles. After careful consideration, the (pernicious) fellow at hand was kind enough to not press charges, for which I am quite grateful.
Vancouver Opera is going with the trend programing of contemporary opera, as seen in Los Angeles and San Francisco of late. The second largest opera company in Canada is presenting Canadian premieres of Nixon in China and The Ghosts of Versailles in the 2011-2012 season.
The Northern California premiere of Nixon in China has been canceled and Trinity Lyric Opera plans to present Robert Ward's The Crucible instead. Boosey & Hawkes rescinded the performance license mistakenly given to Trinity Lyric Opera.