Though I was only able to see Act 1 last Friday, it was clear that this was one of the best things the LA Phil has ever done. Could be the best semi-staged production. Definitely the best video and live music presentation.
It’s a glorious work. Adams realized that the highpoint of every classic opera is the mad scene, so he wrote an opera in which every character is mad, and every aria is a mad scene. The music expresses the manic high of grandeur and power each felt about him- or her-self.
Ryan McKinny (Nixon), John Matthew Myers (Mao), Joélle Harvey (Pat Nixon), Joo Won Kang, Chou En-Lai were terrific. As Mao’s secretaries/bodyguards, Lacey Jo Benter, Renée Rapier and Rachael Wilson provided a scary/comic update of the Three Ladies from Magic Flute.
The Master Chorale sounded great and impersonated mobs and banquet guests effectively.
The staging by director Elkhanah Pulitzer with scenic designer Alexander V. Nichols was minimal—by necessity—but ingenious, defining distinct spaces for each character.
There was continuous video background, but for once it was lovely and appropriate—if a bit busy when the live performers were also performing. And no wonder. This morning in the program I saw it was by Bill Morrison (The Miners’ Hymns, Decasia) who is the master of this genre. I have hated L.A. Phil’s experiments in video accompaniment, but if they can get Morrison to do them from now on, sign me up for all of them.