Friday, September 09, 2016
Dream of the Red Chamber Preview
The San Francisco Opera Guild hosted a preview last week of the world premiere opera, Dream of the Red Chamber, which is opening this Saturday. The participants onstage at Herbst Theatre were left to right SF Opera dramaturg Kip Cranna, conductor George Manahan, composer Bright Sheng, soprano Pureum Jo, and tenor Yijie Shi.
Singing the male lead, Yijie Shi mentioned that he was probably born to play the role but the prospect was a little daunting because all of China knows the characters from the famous 18th century Chinese novel on which the opera is based, and he is the only major male character, a dreamy teenager torn between two girls and many competing matriarchal interests.
The composer of the opera, Bright Sheng, noted that four of the major creators were all ethnically Chinese of about the same age, but with very different backgrounds. Sheng was born and raised in Shanghai but has spent most of his adult life in the United States. His co-librettist, David Henry Hwang, is from Los Angeles and works as a playwright in New York. The director, Stan Lai, is from Taiwan and works quite a bit in Europe, while Production Designer Tim Yip is based in Hong Kong and often works in China, including designing a 50-hour television adaptation of Dream of the Red Chamber which aired in 2010. (According to reviews on IMDB, the 36-episode Chinese television version from 1987 was better.)
Librettist Hwang wrote the plays M. Butterfly and Yellow Face, and he insisted that the principal singers for the premiere productions in San Francisco and Hong Kong be Asian rather than "yellow face" white singers, although the minor characters in the opera are being sung by SF Opera Adler Fellows, who come from all over the world. Not all the principals are Chinese, by the way, such as the Korean soprano Pureum Jo above as the reincarnated flower to Shi's reincarnated stone.
There have been movie adaptations, stage plays, Chinese operas, and TV series based on the classic novel by Cao Xueqin, but this is the first Western style opera variation. Let us hope it's better than Stewart Wallace's The Bonesetter's Daughter, based on the silly Amy Tan novel, which was given its world premiere at SF Opera a decade ago.