San Francisco Opera Premieres Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang's DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER Tonight
San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber, with a libretto by the composer and David Henry Hwang, in six performances from tonight, September 10, through September 29, 2016.
Commissioned by San Francisco Opera, the work is a co-production with the Hong Kong Arts Festival and will be performed March 17-18, 2017 at the Grand Theatre in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre as part of its 45th annual festival. Based on one of the quintessential works of world literature, Sheng and Hwang's opera explores the characters at the heart of Chinese author Cao Xueqin's 18th century novel and communicates their story as a vivid musical and theatrical experience.
The genesis of the opera began with Pearl Bergad, Executive Director of the Minneapolis-based Chinese Heritage Foundation, who approached San Francisco Opera General Director Emeritus David Gockley in 2013 about producing an opera based on Dream of the Red Chamber. Gockley said, "Over twenty years ago in Houston, I worked with Bright Sheng on the creation of a new work and have followed his career ever since. Asking him to create this new opera seemed to me to be the logical and right choice. In conversations with Bright, I asked that Dream of the Red Chamber be composed in a beautifully lyrical style, nostalgic and retain aspects of a traditional Chinese soundscape. I'm very pleased to say that he has indeed succeeded in these efforts." From the beginning, this operatic setting of the timeless Chinese love story was conceived as having an English libretto so it would be readily accessible to non-Chinese speaking audiences. All San Francisco Opera performances of Dream of the Red Chamber will feature both English and Chinese supertitles.
A production "dream team" was assembled to bring Sheng and Hwang's visionary work to life. Known throughout Asia for creating some of the most memorable works for the Contemporary Stage and also for creating bold new genres and staging innovations, playwright and director Stan Lai makes his San Francisco Opera debut with this two-act opera. Tim Yip, the Academy-Award winning designer of Crouching Tiger-Hidden Dragon, designed the sets and costumes for the work. George Manahan will conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Ian Robertson is the Chorus Director.
Adapted from the rich and vast source novel, the opera focuses on the illustrious Jia clan and the love triangle of the Jia's young heir Bao Yu with two very different women: one his spiritual soulmate, Dai Yu, and the other a worldly beauty named Bao Chai. Trouble ensues when the Emperor rejects Princess Jia as his favored concubine, a move that threatens the family's fortune and Bao Yu's union with Dai Yu. Framed by dreamlike prologue and epilogue sequences featuring The Monk, a mysterious figure who may be the author himself, Dream of the Red Chamber relates the poetry and sadness of the original Chinese tale as a lush and lyrical 21st century opera. Director Stan Lai says, "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."
Dream of the Red Chamber features a cast of established and rising Asian singers. Chinese tenor Yijie Shi and South Korean soprano Pureum Jo make their San Francisco Opera debuts as Bao Yu and Dai Yu, the young lovers who are also incarnations of two divine entities, the Stone and Crimson-Pearl Flower, descended to the earthly realm to experience love. Making her Company debut, South Korean mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim is Lady Wang, the elder who schemes to marry Bao Yu to Bao Chai, an heiress of the wealthy Xue Clan. Japanese-American mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts, who impressed San Francisco Opera audiences this summer in the title role of Bizet's Carmen, is the beautiful Bao Chai. Making her United States and Company debuts, Chinese contralto Qiulin Zhang is Granny Jia, the clan elder who attempts to secure a happy future for Bao Yu and Dai Yu. Taiwanese soprano and Merola Opera Program alumna Karen Chia-ling Ho is the fallen concubine Princess Jia and Chinese-American mezzo-soprano and former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Yanyu Guo is Aunt Xue. Japanese-American Bay Area actor Randall Nakano will make his San Francisco Opera debut in the non-singing role of The Monk.
In anticipation of the work's world premiere, San Francisco Opera assembled a committee of community leaders to develop fundraising and awareness-building initiatives both nationally and abroad in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Led by San Francisco Opera Board of Directors member Doreen Woo Ho and War Memorial Trustee Gorretti Lo Lui, this committee-which also includes celebrated novelist Amy Tan, Yahoo! co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco director Jay Xu and acclaimed San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Yuan Yuan Tan-has secured funding and united business leaders, civic leaders, educators and philanthropists across Asia and North America in support of this major new opera. To celebrate the opening of Dream of the Red Chamber, the committee will host a pre-performance cocktail hour in the War Memorial Opera House, a dinner next door in the Green Room of the Veterans Building and a post-performance reception with the cast and creators. The Honorary Co-Chairs for these sold-out events are San Francisco Mayor, The Honorable Edwin M. Lee and his wife Anita Lee.
Dream of the Red Chamber is the eighth world premiere at San Francisco Opera in the last ten seasons and the Company's fourteenth world premiere overall. Recent world premieres include Marco Tutino and Fabio Ceresa's Two Women (2015), Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy's Dolores Claiborne (2013), Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2013), Nolan Gasser and Carey Harrison's The Secret Garden (2013), Christopher Theofanidis and Donna Di Novelli's Heart of a Solder (2011), StewArt Wallace and Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter (2008) and Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton's Appomattox (2007).
Sung in English with English and Chinese supertitles, the six performances of Dream of the Red Chamber are scheduled for September 10 (7:30 p.m.), September 13 (7:30 p.m.), September 18 (2:00 p.m.), September 23 (7:30 p.m.), September 27 (7:30 p.m.), September 29 (7:30 p.m.), 2016. San Francisco Opera's 2016-17 Season opens on September 9 with Giordano's Andrea Chénier.
Single tickets for Dream of the Red Chamber are priced from $26 to $417 (subject to change) and may be purchased at sfopera.com or through the San Francisco Opera Box Office at 301 Van Ness Avenue or by phone at (415) 864-3330. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; tickets are $10 each, cash only.
The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street. Patrons are encouraged to use public transportation to attend San Francisco Opera performances. The War Memorial Opera House is within walking distance of the Civic Center BART station and near numerous bus lines, including 5, 21, 47, 49 and the F Market Street. For more public transportation information, visit bart.gov and sfmuni.com.