Red Chamber to become an opera

Updated: 2015-12-17 12:38

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco(China Daily USA)

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Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the masterpieces of Chinese literature, will be adapted into opera for the first time and debut at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco next September.

The novel, also called The Story of the Stone, is an autobiographical novel by the 18th Century writer Cao Xueqin who lived during the Qing Dynasty. It is considered the most important and popular novel in the history of Chinese literature.

Founded by the Chinese Heritage Foundation Friends of Minnesota and commissioned by San Francisco Opera, the two-act opera will aim to "showcase the best in Chinese literature and, at the same time, encourage innovation in the arts".

The opera features an English-language libretto by the composer, Bright Sheng, and playwright David Henry Hwang, winner of the 1988 Tony Award for Best Play for his M. Butterfly.

The story centers on a love triangle between hero Bao Yu, his beautiful cousin Dai Yu, and his future wife, another beautiful cousin named Bao Chai.

The novel was adapted with a focus on eight central characters to tell the tale of the illustrious Jia clan and trace its fall from the height of its prestige.

The opera will be infused with Chinese elements "dramatically, musically and theatrically," Sheng, a Chinese-American composer, conductor and pianist, told a press conference held Wednesday at the War Memorial Opera House.

"I consider myself 100 percent Chinese, and 100 percent American," said Sheng, who is also a MacArthur Fellowship recipient. "I am thankful to be able to come up with something that is authentically and deeply felt. You have to have a profound understanding of Chinese culture, in this case, and Western culture."

Stan Lai, an award-winning playwright and director, will direct the new opera. He said the opera will adopt the Chinese philosophy of "emptiness" in painting to "create all the possibilities". Lai is also known for his award-winning feature films, and the 1986 play Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land.

Academy Award-winning art director and designer Tim Yip joins the creative team as production designer. Yip received an Oscar for his art direction of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), as well as a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for the film's costume design.

"Western philosophy misses something to create imagination," he said, adding that innovative ways of expression will be adopted to create the dreamlike scenes, such as translucent backgrounds and costumes.

"I asked that Dream of the Red Chamber be composed in a beautifully lyrical style, nostalgic and retaining aspects of a traditional Chinese soundscape. I'm very pleased to say that he (Sheng) has indeed succeeded in this," said San Francisco Opera general director David Gockley.

The all-Asian cast will include soprano Pureum Jo, from South Korea, as Dai Yu and tenor Yijie Shi, from Shanghai, as Bao Yu.

The three-hour opera is scheduled for its world premiere on Sept 10, 2016.

 Red Chamber to become an opera

Bright Sheng (second from right), Stan Lai (second from left) and Tim Yip (right) join San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley (left) to discuss the new opera Dream of the Red Chamber at a press conference held Wednesday at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. Lia Zhu / China Daily

(China Daily USA 12/17/2015 page2)