Bit of a half-assed write-up of Nixon in China in Chicago, I think. Vacation from work=vacation from blog? Apparently not. Blog springs eternal.
One of my sources/correspondents opines that Nixon, with its several upcoming productions, should be liberated from all influences of Sellars, and step on it. Still, I'd like to see the video of the Houston premiere production [I am positive I saw a video of it in, um, well, high school, but it must have been one of those things on Great Performances that was banished to outer space, because I've never seen any mention of it since...] because I'm dying to know if the third act makes a whit of sense in a more literal production, which I believe Houston/Sellars was.
I know NiC primarily from the highlights disc, which is wonderful, but apparently also not really representative. The tracks on there give it a feel of being poetic but not impenetrably abstract. And unless there are just some stage directions that got tossed out the window by an ambitious director, that's not the case. This is closer kin to Gertrude Stein than to Giancarlo Menotti. And yeah, I guess I'm coming from a somewhat conservative place vis a vis narrative in my art, for better or worse. I'm the guy who thinks Vanessa is a perfect libretto. I mean, jeez.
So the second and third acts--literal sense seemed less and less important as the evening wore on--was a long scratching of the head, but vocally pretty satisfying. Word is it was amplified, right? Puzzling, since Robert Orth still sounded lacklustre down low, the only truly weak part of an overall strong run through the role (which he repeats in Cinci and Houston, as do several of his colleagues.) Maria Kanyova was very much his equal as Pat, in an unfussy performance that lost little dignity during some of the more clueless directorial moments. One awaits her Glimmerglass Jenufa with heightened interest. I think, in fact, all the principals created viable characters, worthy of later reflection, but thanks to Alice Goodman mostly, only in a sidelong fashion.
As on the recording, the most distinguished reading was that of Chou En Lai (there: the wonderful Sanford Sylvan; here: the calmly enthralling Chen Ye Yuan) Chou gets some of the most quietly wunderbar music in the piece, and Chen, like Sylvan, decants it aristocratically.
Of course I think we were all waiting for the well hyped Kathleen Kim in the ball-breaking role of Qiang Qing, the wife of Mao. To hear her aria "I am the Wife of Mao Tse Tung" is to go around humming it for 72 hours or so until you bust yourself smartly over the head with a curling stone in despair. Really a masterpiece not just of 20th century op lit but the whole damn shindig. Ms. Kim did not shrink from it until the end, where she skipped the final trips into the ionosphere for lower options, and it would be idiotic to complain, as 98% of the rest of it was solid stuff. When I listen to the aria next I'm sure I'll see her in my head, standing surely under 5 feet (my compatriot in stature) with an uzi* in hand, looking just about ready to use it. The amplification and her tiny, tremulous vibrato makes it hard to judge quite what's going on with the voice, but LOC is lately much in the habit of turning out killer voices, so I'll be watching to see where she goes.
Mao, too, is a cruelly written role, and I'm not sure how to judge Mark Duffin on it. His tone was no day at the beach, but he was persuasive and quite comprehensible over an orchestra that wasn't doing anyone any favors.
Moments of the production were certainly a success--Pat Nixon's whole scene in Act II conveyed character without too much concrete to go on--but the overall feel was one of adolescent striving, a concept piece that's just a little too high maintenance. Two of the things that serve as warnings to me turned up early on: a mute but Clearly Very Meaningful character meandering about, doing things like sprinkling snow from above (an activity endorsed by the Clearly Very Meaningful Mute Characters' Union) and a bunch of television screens. In the end, I couldn't much say that either really merited its inclusion.
At intermission I ran into my friend who used to write as Enzo Bordello, one of the folks whose opera-writing back in r.m.o. days taught me opera. Now there's someone whose blogging we'd all like to read, but alas, his work eats up all his time, I think.
*Uzi? I think uzi. Try not to perish from the shock of it when I say I wasn't one of the kids who sat around drawing artillery in middle school.
Next up: lordy, not so much. Potentially naught 'til Caramoor.