On another bright summer afternoon, on August 8, CHF Friends welcomed back the majority of the audience from our June 28 luncheon, plus many who were unable to attend last time, to Act II of our Dream Opera.
First everyone feasted on another luncheon created by Yin Simpson. It included salmon baked in ginger and scallions and soy sauce, summer salad, tofu, fresh fruit, and pecan bars and rice crackers for desert.
Again, promptly at 1 PM, Pearl Bergad began her presentation. Briefly recapping the scenes from Act I discussed last time, she described the last scene in Act I during which all seven principals in our Opera will be on stage during the royal visit of Princess Jia. This climactic scene will propel everyone into the tragedy that was waiting for all of them in Act II.
Act II opens with DaiYu burying the fallen peach blossoms, comparing her sad life to those of the blossoms. She wonders who will bury her when her time comes? BaoYu, who happens to be nearby, is overcome by her sadness and decides to declare his love to her. Unfortunately she leaves before he has gathered up his courage. This scene of DaiYu burying flowers has become the most celebrated from the entire novel and has spawned numerous depictions in every conceivable artistic medium.
In the scenes that follow, BaoYu’s mother, Lady Wang plots, together with Grandma Jia and Aunt Xue, to have BaoYu marry BaoChai, while promising him that he will be marrying his beloved DaiYu. DaiYu finds out unexpectedly and, thunderstruck, proceeds to burn all the poems that she and BaoYu had written together and dies. In the meantime BaoYu happily goes through the wedding ceremony and then finds, to his horror when he lifts the bridal veil, that he has married BaoChai instead.
At this point Bergad stopped her presentation. Instead of informing the audience how the Opera will end, she posed three questions to them instead: 1. Why did Grandma Jia, who had given BaoYu everything he had even wanted, deny him the woman whom he wished to marry? 2. Why did Grandma Jia, who had promised to take care of DaiYu when she first came to her, now throw her away? 3. Did DaiYu have to die just as BaoYu was getting married? Did she have to die at all?
These questions have vexed Redologists, scholars who have devoted their lives to the study of this novel, since the novel first appeared in print. Since these events took place in the last 40 chapters of the novel that have not been authenticated to be by the author Cao Xueqin himself, Bergad invited the audience to speculate on how these events could be handled in such a way that would engage a 21st century audience, bearing in mind that many options available in our time would not have been available to DaiYu in 18th century China.
Bergad then presented a chart of our fundraising progress and noted that we were within 10% of our goal of $300,000 and urged everyone to participate. She also announced that CHFF is planning a gala donor appreciation weekend on Nov. 7 and 8. For donors giving $1,000 or more there will be a private dinner reception with Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang on the evening of Nov. 7. Then there will be a private luncheon for all donors giving $100 or more during which Bright and David will preview the opera and present musical excerpts with singers. There will be no public announcement of this gala weekend, as this is a private donor appreciation event.
Bergad also touched on the possibility of group ticket discounts to the world premiere and possibly group rates for hotels. The Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco has pledged its cooperation with us and will offer group tours to historic Chinese sites around San Francisco if there is interest. Everyone is urged to check our website for frequent updates.
Last but not least, we are already looking beyond our world premiere with the San Francisco Opera. In February 2017 Dream will have its Asian premiere at the Hong Kong Arts Festival! On that euphoric note, the audience dispersed, poised to cement its connection to this wonderful Opera Project.