Chicago Opera Theater Presents Huang Ruo's Chinese Mythology Based BOOK OF MOUNTAINS AND SEAS With Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, January 26 -28

This feast for the ears and eyes features visually stunning giant puppets designed by world-famous puppeteer Basil Twist.

By: Dec. 21, 2023
Chicago Opera Theater Presents Huang Ruo's Chinese Mythology Based BOOK OF MOUNTAINS AND SEAS With Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, January 26 -28
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Chicago Opera Theater Presents Huang Ruo's Chinese Mythology Based BOOK OF MOUNTAINS AND SEAS With Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, January 26 -28

Chicago Opera Theater (COT), Chicago's foremost producer of new and reimagined opera, continues its 50th Anniversary season with the Midwest Premiere of Huang Ruo's environmentalist opera Book of Mountains and Seas presented in partnership with the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival and produced by Beth Morrison Projects.

Scored for twelve singers -the artists of ARS NOVA Copenhagen – and two percussionists, the opera also features six puppeteers wielding beautiful, larger-than-life puppets designed by the opera's Director, world-renowned puppeteer Basil Twist. Book of Mountains and Seas will be performed Friday, January 26 and Saturday, January 27 at 7:30 PM and Sunday, January 28 at 3:00 PM at the Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building, 410 S Michigan Ave. Tickets start at $45 and available now at chicagooperatheater.org.

Book of Mountains and Seas is inspired by the ancient compilation of Chinese myths and legends of the same title – 山海經 (Shanhai jing)- first written down during the Qin Dynasty in the 4th Century BC. Throughout the centuries, these classic tales have been told over and over again, becoming part of Chinese written and oral history.  The opera Book of Mountains and Seas is a contemporary retelling of four of these well-known stories that brings into focus our modern-day relationship with the natural world and the relevance of the ancient wisdom of the original tales during a time of overlapping environmental crises of 21st century society. Composer and librettist Huang Ruo's vibrant and inventive score, which draws inspiration from Chinese folk music alongside other musical idioms, and the unique libretto featuring a combination of Chinese and an invented language, conjure a sense of respect and awe for the environment while challenging audiences to be good stewards of the natural resources we have been given. Also on the creative team, Miles Lallemant conducts, and Poe Saegusa is lighting designer.

"Over the centuries, the stories that make up the Book of Mountains and Seas have become part of Chinese written and oral history. They have been told and reimagined through the voices of many artists," said COT Edlis Neeson General Director Lawrence Edelson. "Huang Ruo and Basil Twist's perspective on these timeless tales combines a haunting, evocative score with visually stunning puppetry - juxtaposing our relationship with the natural world today to these beautiful and deeply moving ancient stories of creation and destruction. COT is thrilled to be partnering with the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival and Beth Morrison Projects to bring this truly unique production that challenges audiences to see the world in a new way to Chicago audiences for the first time.”

Book of Mountains and Seas was commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech, Toronto Soundstreams, Koorbiennale, Hong Kong New Vision Arts Festival, and Linda & Stuart Nelson. It was originally Produced by Beth Morrison Projects, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Internationale Koorbiennale and Toronto Soundstreams. The tour is produced by Beth Morrison Projects. The Chicago Premiere of Book of Mountains and Seas is presented by Chicago Opera Theater in partnership with the Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival.

Huang Ruo has been lauded by the New Yorker as “one of the world's leading young composers” and by The New York Times for having “a distinctive style.” His vibrant and inventive musical voice draws equal inspiration from Chinese ancient and folk music, Western avant-garde, experimental, noise, natural and processed sound, rock, and jazz. As a member of the new generation of Chinese composers, his goal is not just to mix both Western and Eastern elements, but also to create a seamless, organic integration. Huang Ruo's diverse compositional works span from orchestra, chamber music, opera, theater, and dance, to cross-genre, sound installation, multi-media, experimental improvisation, folk rock, and film. Huang Ruo was born in Hainan Island, China in 1976 – the year the Chinese Cultural Revolution ended. His father, who is also a composer, began teaching him composition and piano when he was six years old. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, when China was opening its gate to the Western world, he received both traditional and Western education at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. As a result of the dramatic cultural and economic changes in China following the Cultural Revolution, his education expanded from Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, and Lutoslawski, to include the Beatles, rock and roll, heavy metal, and jazz. Huang Ruo was able to absorb all of these newly allowed Western influences equally

Basil Twist, a third-generation puppeteer, has significantly contributed to the art of puppetry since 1998, and is known worldwide for creating original abstract adult puppet works focused on their integration with music. His famous work Symphonie Fantastique, which takes place in a tank of water, is performed to the symphony of the same name and a new film version was screened as part of the 2023 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. Twist created the puppetry for the Broadway productions of The Pee-Wee Herman Show and The Addams Family. Other works include Dogugaeshi, La Bella Dormente nel Bosco, Petrushka, Hansel and Gretel, Master Peter's Puppet Show, The Araneidae Show, Behind the Lid and Arias with a Twist. He has received numerous awards, including a Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, an Obie Award, a Creative Capital Award in Performing Arts and a Guggenheim fellowship. He was a 2015 MacArthur Fellow at the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts. He attended Oberlin College and graduated from the École Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières, France. He is founder and director of the Dream Music Puppetry Program at Here Arts Center in New York. In 2023, he led the puppetry in the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of My Neighbor Totoro at the Barbican Theatre, London. Closer to home, Twist's puppets are represented in Christopher Wheeldon's The Nutcracker for The Joffrey Ballet.

ARS NOVA Copenhagen is a Danish-based, international vocal ensemble of 12 members that specializes in renaissance polyphonic choral music and new vocal music, which is performed with precision and nerve, and with a sound that attracts attention all over the world. The ensemble has long since established itself as one of the world's finest vocal ensembles and has toured in more than 40 countries over the years. With concerts in Copenhagen and the rest of Denmark and several annual tours worldwide, the group is today more in demand than ever.  Over the years, Ars Nova has had close collaborations with a large number of both international and Danish composers, including Pelle Gudmundsens-Holmgreen, Per Nørgård and Avo Pärt. Most recently, the ensemble premiered works by Bent Sørensen, Signe Lykke, Caroline Shaw and Galina Grigorjeva (summer 2023). Ars Nova has recorded a number of award-winning albums; including a Grammy for The Little Match Girl Passion with music by David Lang (with Theater of Voices at Harmonia Mundi). The ensemble's latest release is "...and..." (Naxos) with works by Arvo Pärt, Julia Wolfe and Caroline Shaw as well as Italian medieval songs from Laudario di Cortona, which was nominated as release of the year at the P2 Prize 2022, and Crossing Borders (Dacapo) with music by Carl Nielsen, Niels W. Gade, Vagn Holmboe, Wilhelm Stenhammer and Line Tjørnhøj.

Beth Morrison Projects (BMP) is one of the foremost creators and producers of new opera-theatre and music theatre, with a fierce commitment to leading the industry into the future, cultivating a new generation of talent, and telling the stories of our time. Founded by “contemporary opera mastermind” (LA Times) Beth Morrison, who was honored as one of Musical America's Artists of the Year/Agents of Change in 2020 and a Kennedy Center Next50 in 2022, BMP has grown into “a driving force behind America's thriving opera scene” (Financial Times), with Opera News declaring that the company, “more than any other… has helped propel the art form into the twenty-first century.”

Operating across the US and internationally, with offices in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, BMP's unique model offers living composers the support, guidance, and freedom to experiment, allowing them to create singularly innovative and impactful projects. Since forming in 2006, the company has commissioned, developed, produced and toured over 60 works in 14 countries around the world, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning chamber operas Angel's Bone and p r i s m. In 2013, BMP co-founded the PROTOTYPE Festival with HERE Arts Center, which has been called “utterly essential” (The New York Times), “indispensable” (The New Yorker), and “one of the world's top festivals of contemporary opera and theater” (Associated Press). For more information visit bethmorrisonprojects.org

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival advances the art of puppetry by presenting sophisticated programs vital to the cultural life of Chicago. Engaging and inspiring the largest and most diverse audiences for puppetry possible, the Festival is the biggest event dedicated to puppetry in North America and traditionally offers more than 100 activities annually including performances, workshops, artist intensives, free neighborhood events and symposia to audiences up to 14,000 over 11 days each January. The organization is also home to other key initiatives, including the Chicago Puppet Studio and Chicago Puppet Lab, that nurture the development of puppeteers and deepen the field locally, nationally, and internationally with the ultimate goal of promoting peace, equality, mutual understanding, and justice locally and globally. The sixth annual Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is January 18-28, 2024 and includes over two dozen performances, workshops, and events. For more information visit chicagopuppetfest.org.

Celebrating its 50th Anniversary season in 2023/24, Chicago Opera Theater is a company laser-focused on living its values: expanding the tradition of opera as a living art form, producing high-quality works new to Chicago audiences, identifying top-tier casts and creative talent at the beginning of grand operatic careers, and following through on commitments to equity and access – behind the scenes, on the stage, and in the audience. Since its founding in 1973, COT has grown from a grassroots community-based company to a national leader in an increasingly vibrant, diverse, and forward-looking art form. COT has staged over 155 operas, including 81 Chicago premieres and 47 operas by American composers. COT is led Lawrence Edelson who began his tenure as General Director in the 2023/24 season; and Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya who concludes her tenure with the company at the end of this season.

The Vanguard Initiative, founded in 2018 and celebrating its fifth anniversary this Spring, is COT's fully comprehensive program for composers ready to delve into the world of opera. This immersive two-year residency includes participation in all COT productions, sessions with top industry leaders, extensive study of repertoire and vocal writing, and direct insight into administrative and other behind-the-scenes processes, culminating with the development of a full-length opera commissioned by the company. The program is guided and overseen by Elizabeth Morse and Genius Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya, with Composer Advisors Jake Heggie, Kamala Sankaram, and Gene Scheer. The program has renewed funding from the Mellon Foundation for the 2023/24 season. The 2023/24 Vanguard Composers are Gillian Rae Perry (second year) and Carlos R. Carrillo (first year).

Chicago Opera Theater's season continues with the Vanguard Initiative concert premiere of The Weight of Light April 27 at the Epiphany Center for the Arts and the World Premiere tour of Before it All Goes Dark with Music of Remembrance May 25 & 26 at the Studebaker Theater. Chicago Opera Theater's 50th Anniversary Gala will be April 5 at Venue West.

For more information on Chicago Opera Theater productions, visit chicagooperatheater.org




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