Dream of Red Cham­ber opera set for SF de­but

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By LIA ZHU in San Fran­cisco li­azhu@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Some tick­ets are even harder to get than Hamil­ton.

Dream of the Red Cham­ber, the first adap­ta­tion of the epic Chi­nese novel into an opera, will have its world de­but at the War Memorial Opera House in San Fran­cisco with six per­for­mances Sept 10-29.

The world premier will be pre­sented in six per­for­mances from Sept 10 to 29, sung in English with English and Chi­nese sub­ti­tles.

Com­mis­sioned by the San Fran­cisco Opera, the two-act opera in English (with Chi­nese sub­ti­tles) was writ­ten by MacArthur Fel­low com­poser Bright Sheng and Tony Award­win­ning play­wright David Henry Hwang.

Cel­e­brated play­wright and di­rec­tor Stan Lai and Acad­emy Award-win­ning de­signer Tim Yip joined the pro­duc­tion team as di­rec­tor and pro­duc­tion de­signer re­spec­tively.

The cre­ative team said they were all big fans of the novel, which is con­sid­ered one of the four great­est nov­els in the his­tory of Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture. Also known as The Story of the Stone, it’s an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal work by 18th cen­tury Qing Dy­nasty writer Cao Xue­qin.

It’s not easy to adapt a 120-chaper novel with more than 400 char­ac­ters into a twoact opera, said Sheng, who added that he had read the novel five or six times be­fore tak­ing on the pro­ject.

The opera fo­cuses on the il­lus­tri­ous Jia clan and the love tri­an­gle be­tween Jia’s young heir Bao Yu and two very dif­fer­ent women — his beau­ti­ful cousin and soul mate Dai Yu, and his fu­ture wife, another beau­ti­ful cousin named Bao Chai.

Framed by dream­like pro­logue and epi­logue se­quences, the opera aims to re­late the po­etry and sad­ness of the novel as a lush and lyri­cal opera for the 21st cen­tury.

“I aim to blend Chi­nese aes­thet­ics and Asian philoso­phies within a con­tem­po­rary sen­si­bil­ity to cre­ate a play be­tween visual lush­ness and sparse­ness be­fit­ting the score and the novel’s themes of im­per­ma­nence,” said Lai.

The opera also em­ploys Chi­nese in­stru­ments — strong per­cus­sion like gongs and the an­cient stringed qin — to cre­ate a unique and in­tro­spec­tive feel­ing, ac­cord­ing to Sheng.

The qin, which has a sound even softer than a guitar, ap­pears twice in the opera — once in a scene when Daiyu plays it and again at the end when the same leit­mo­tif re­turns but with a dif­fer­ent mean­ing, he said.

Yip, who also de­signed the cos­tumes for the 2010 made­for-tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion of the Dream of the Red Cham­ber, said he took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach of mix­ing re­al­ity with fan­tasy for the opera.

Un­like Bei­jing Opera, which fea­tures bright col­ors and com­mu­ni­cates de­tails, Yip said the de­tails are blurred and the cos­tumes are translu­cent to “give space for the mu­sic to stim­u­late emo­tion”.

Call­ing the new opera “an in­cred­i­bly sweep­ing work”, San Fran­cisco Opera gen­eral di­rec­tor Matthew Shil­vock said the piece tells an emo­tional and uni­ver­sal love story and works par­tic­u­larly well for the stage.

The work is also ex­pected to serve a win­dow for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing the cul­ture of China.

“So when we do deal with big is­sues be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing, peo­ple would have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how hu­man re­la­tion­ships work in China,” said San Fran­cisco Opera board mem­ber Doreen Woo Ho. “I think it is a way of be­ing able to trans­late that un­der­stand­ing and help build that bridge.”

Dream of the Red Cham­ber, with a cast of es­tab­lished and Asian singers, fea­tures Chi­nese tenor Yi­jie Shi as Bao Yu, South Korean so­prano Pureum Jo as Dai Yu and Ja­panese Amer­i­can mez­zoso­prano Irene Roberts as Bao Chai.

The opera will be the eighth world premiere at the San Fran­cisco Opera in the last 10 sea­sons and the com­pany’s sec­ond ma­jor Asian work after The Bone­set­ter’s Daugh­ter in 2008.

As a co-pro­duc­tion with the Hong Kong Arts Fes­ti­val, the opera will be per­formed on March 17 and 18 at the Hong Kong Cul­tural Cen­ter as the fi­nale of its 45th an­nual fes­ti­val.

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