Chinese tenor Yijie Shi (L) playing Bao Yu and South Korean soprano Pureum Jo playing Dai Yu perform during a final dress rehearsal of the opera "Dream of the Red Chamber" at San Francisco War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, the United States, on Sept. 7, 2016. San Francisco Opera is going to present the world debut of an opera adapted from the best ever Chinese novel. "Dream of the Red Chamber" in six performances from September 10 to 29 will be the first time for the 18th-century Chinese classic to be transported to the Western operatic stage. (Xinhua/Dong Xudong)
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- San Francisco Opera is going to present the world debut of an opera adapted from the best ever Chinese novel.
"Dream of the Red Chamber" in six performances from September 10 to 29 will be the first time for the 18th-century Chinese classic to be transported to the Western operatic stage.
During the final dress rehearsal at San Francisco War Memorial Opera House on Wednesday night, just a couple of days ahead of the world premiere, an invited audience were able to get their first glimpse of the much-anticipated show, in which the performers sung in English to communicate an ill-fated love story amidst a prominent family's decline in China's Qing Dynasty.
Cao Xueqin's "Dream of the Red Chamber," which has inspired numerous art forms in China, is rarely known in America. Matthew Shilvock, San Francisco Opera general director, believes that opera is the best way to introduce the great Chinese novel to Americans.
"'Dream of the Red Chamber' is not a piece my colleagues or I knew as we got into this," he told a press conference recently. "But it is a piece very critically resonated with us at a very operatic scope. It's a piece about humanity emotions and human life. There's no greater way to put on an opera on the stage to talk about humanity."
Commissioned by San Francisco Opera, the two-act opera has been created by a group of celebrated artists. They include MacAthur-winning Shanghai-born composer Bright Sheng, Tony-winning American-born playwright David Hwang, American-born Taiwanese director Stan Lai and Oscar-winning Hong Kong-born designer Tim Yip.
The creators have formed what San Francisco Opera calls a dream team, which is in the right position to help the American audience understand a different culture and a different era.
"We are among the best in the Chinese community. We come together and want to show the American audience our artistic achievements," Lai told Xinhua.
The opera creators also mentioned that it just seemed to be a mission impossible to adapt such a long novel with more than 400 characters in it into a two-act opera of two hours and a half.
Sheng, who is a big fan of the novel, worked closely with Hwang to finally produce an adaption which is a gross simplification of the novel while trying to retain its profundity.
Sheng uses some Chinese instruments, such as Peking Opera percussions, gongs and cymbals to have a "strong punctuation of the drama," and Chinese ancient stringed qin to create a "unique and introspective feeling."
The cast is comprised of established and rising Asian singers with Chinese tenor Yijie Shi playing Bao Yu and South Korean soprano Pureum Jo playing Dai Yu, the two main characters.
San Francisco Opera also hopes the English-language opera will be accessible to Chinese-speaking audience as well.
"To be able to find a story connected to such a critical part of our community is very important to San Francisco Opera," general director Shilvock said. "Finding a way to bring it to the community in the opera house is something central to the way we think about our community."
"And finding a different voice, a different story, a different audience for the opera house is something we are very excited about," he noted.
The opera is a co-production with Hong Kong Arts Festival and will also be performed in March 2017 in Hong Kong.