The idea of “On Gold Mountain” sounded dreamy from the start: a new opera based on a Lisa See book staged in the Chinese Garden at The Huntington. And last weekend’s performance was indeed, to borrow another See title, a dream of joy. This weekend is the second and last chance to see “On Gold Mountain.” Don’t miss it.
Walking through the Chinese Garden and past the lake, where every view is worthy of a photo, sets the mood for the opera. See’s libretto and Nathan Wang’s musical score have a real spring feel. Drawing from her memoir, “On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family,” See focuses on her great grandfather, Fong See, and his American wife, Lettice Pruett, telling a story about love and destiny, in which she plants flower and garden metaphors. Wang’s music, incorporating quite magically both orchestra and traditional Chinese instruments, is upbeat and singable. It was performed beautifully and with zest by members of the LA Opera Orchestra, along with community orchestra and chorus members, as Wang conducted.
Of course, this true story is not all sunshine and roses, as anyone who knows American history will suspect. There are darker elements that unfortunately remain a part of our contemporary lives — the discrimination that Fong See faces, the lack of acceptance on both sides of the cultural divide for a Chinese-American marriage, and the way women are treated as second-class citizens who must obey their fathers, then their husbands, then their sons.
But “On Gold Mountain” really focuses on the positive — on the determination and hard work that made Fong See and Lettice successful business owners and the love that Fong See realizes matters to him most — and weaves humor throughout.
From the musicians and singers to the set and costumes, every aspect of this show was simply top-notch, but that was to be expected of any production LA Opera has a part in. Direction by Jennifer Chang and choreography by Annie Yee were spot on, both lively and sincere. Zhengyi Bai (Fong See), Brooke Iva Lohman (Lettice Pruett) and Jessica M. Choi (Matchmaker) particularly impressed the crowd with their great acting and magnificent voices, often drawing oohs along with enthusiastic applause.
Treat yourself to something special: “On Gold Mountain” is a mid-spring night’s dream when we could all use a little music and poetry under the stars.
—Julie Riggott, Culture Spot LA
Photo of the Chinese Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens / © The Huntington