Select Dream Press Releases and Notices in Beijing, August and September 2017
I. Press releases: SF Opera will bring ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ production to China
News was reported by Mercury News, Opera Wire, and Broadway World.
i) by Sue Gilmore at Mercury News, 8/16/2017: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/16/sf-opera-will-bring-dream-of-the-red-chamber-production-to-china/ This tour to Beijing, Changsha and Wuhan will feature composer Bright Sheng as conductor as well as some cast changes in the original San Francisco Opera’s production. “’Dream of the Red Chamber'” had a profound impact in connecting San Francisco Opera to its broader Bay Area community,” SF Opera’s General Director Matthew Shilvock said. “It’s thrilling, then, that this impact will continue as ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ travels to China in one of the most exciting American-Chinese cultural bridges to emerge in recent years.”
The tour is scheduled to open with two showcases at Beijing’s Poly Theatre on Sept. 8 and 9 and will then be presented as part of the grand opening of the Meixihu International Culture and Arts Centre Grand Theatre in the southern city of Changsha on Sept. 15 and 16. The third and final stop of the tour will be the Qintai Grand Theatre in Wuhan on Sept. 22 and 23.
iv) Xinhua -- 2017-08-17, Editor: Yamei http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-08/17/c_136533742.htm
Stan Lai is quoted as saying: ‘"The story is told with a new perspective by switching scenes between the real world and illusion, showing the audience the beauty of dream and the harshness of reality. It inspires people to pursue beauty and love."
iv) CTGN - English opera based on Chinese classic novel set for China debut, 2017-08-11 https://news.cgtn.com/news/7851544e79557a6333566d54/share_p.html
a preview of the upcoming China premiere of Dream and summary of reviews of the world premiere performance in San Francisco. Responding to the possibility of failure or evoking a mixed reaction in tackling such a revered novel, librettist David Henry Hwang told The Guardian, "That's not a bad thing if you can create a work that makes people re-engage with this novel on a different level."
v) China Plus - English adaptation of famed Chinese opera "Dream of The Red Chamber" to open in China soon; 2017-08-22
a video with host Sam Duckett with some of the behind-the-stage stories.
2. Armstrong International Music & Arts Enterprises – an artist manager and touring agent with offices in London, Beijing and Rome, was appointed by SF Opera as the exclusive touring agent of Dream in China.
Wray Armstrong, Chairman and CEO has this to say: "When I saw the dress rehearsal for the premiere last season, even before its sold-out performances in San Francisco and later Hong Kong, I was certain this work would be a hit in China. What an honor to bring China's greatest literary treasure back home in this unique and beautiful production, created by a ‘Dream Team’ of artists!” In addition to giving the dates and venues of this China tour, this press release contains detailed information on all cast members. To see complete press release, please click here.
3. U.S.-China Social and Cultural Dialogue - On September 28, 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met, for the first time, with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong. The topic at this inaugural meeting was on U.S.-China Social and Cultural Dialogue.
The summary from the State Department’s website (https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/09/274496.htm) noted that ‘The social, cultural, and people-to-people ties between our two peoples are both deep rooted and dynamic.’
But the press release from the Chinese Xinhua Agency was extensive and specific. Of particular interest was that under the area of Cultural Dialogue, the two countries had pledged to promote the interchange of outstanding artistic undertakings that would further mutual understanding between the two countries. One of the examples cited was SF Opera’s production of Dream of the Red Chamber. TO read the entire press release, please click here.
II. Select Press Notices:
1. Financial Times: Opera beset by intrigues old and new: https://www.ft.com/content/2efd7106-997a-11e7-a652-cde3f882dd7b?mhq5j=e7 This article delves into some of the intricacies of bringing performances to China, and the sensitivities to be aware of. It gives a great deal of background information.
2. CTGN: Chinese Global Television Network, an English news channel of China Central Television based in Beijing Chinese classic in English bids to wow audiences in China https://news.cgtn.com/news/336b6a4d34557a6333566d54/share_p.html
The author predicts that ‘The production is sure to come under close scrutiny from Chinese audiences who hold the original novel dear to their hearts.’ The article also contains the quotes: "Chinese story, or Western story... we're all humans. So we have something in common. We all want to be loved, all want to love. So from that point of view, there's no difference. It's just a story that happens in China, or in ancient China,” said Bright Sheng, composer and co-librettist.
“While making the story line simple we hope to retain the sophistication of 'A Dream of Red Mansions', particularly the facets of the aristocratic life of China's Qing Dynasty through Tim Yip's very beautiful costumes and scenery and staging that put a lot of details. I think the audience would be able to grasp that,” said Stan Lai, stage director. “Plus, all of the themes, all of the very, very Chinese themes that come from the philosophical themes... Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism. We have kept all these things,”
Tenor Shi Yijie, who plays Bao Yu, said: “A Dream of Red Mansions is such a classic. The novel has such a special place in the hearts of us Chinese. As an opera singer who toured foreign countries and presented characters of Western opera classics, I find this role very difficult. I've poured in a lot of time and effort into the role.”
Of Tim Yip’s set and costume designs, Daniel Knapp, San Francisco Opera production director said, “Everything is translucent, everything is transparent and everything glows,” Knapp said. “It is the sheer cut and the brilliance of Tim’s design that make the production so stellar and so transformable.”
Terry Branstad, U.S. Ambassador to China, greatly enjoyed the inaugural performance in Beijing, and hoped that there would be more cultural exchanges between China and the U.S.
3. CGTN, full length feature on Chinese Global Television Network, an English news channel of China Central Television based in Beijing, September 9, 2017 http://xhpfmapi.zhongguowangshi.com/share/index.html?docid=2282201&channel=weixin&from=singlemessage&isappinstalled=0
This half-hour feature details the development of the opera, its impact on the U.S. audience, and its role on the international stage. Wray Armstrong, CEO of Armstrong International Music & Arts Enterprises, said, ‘This opera uses the world language of music to tell a Chinese classic story in English. Seen in the established format of opera our English-speaking friends now can directly appreciate this classic Chinese story. Combining the high artistic level of opera with the best in Chinese culture, this opera is giving extra deep meaning to Chinese/International cultural exchanges. Its arrival back in China today marks the first time a world-class artistic work with a Chinese theme has created such splendor.’
Composer Bright Sheng incorporated some well-known Chinese folk song melodies into western contemporary opera, creating a special idiom of his own. The anchor feels that ‘Now that Dream has been performed in both San Francisco and Hong Kong and has now arrived at the Poly Theatre in Beijing, we are no longer talking about a simple one-way export of Chinese culture. We are talking about serious interchanges on subjects of mutual interest. Dream has successfully attracted foreign affection, and has also led to interest in new cultural arts among the worldwide Chinese.’
Through its spokesman, San Francisco Opera said, ‘We hope that this Dream opera in English will only be the beginning. Let’s hope that there will be many more Chinese stories being produced in worldwide artistic formats, attracting a worldwide audience and creating wide accolades.’
4. Weibo, the Chinese social network, 9/12/17 A long series of articles in WeiBo on various aspects of Dream, including musical excerpts, interviews with the artistic team, extra interviews with Bright on changes he had made since the Hong Kong premiere (adding extra loving passages to love scene of BaoYu and DaiYu in Act I before the climax) and preview of the WuHan performances.
5. Beijing Evening Post - In the review in the September 9, 2017, issue of the Beijing Evening Post, critic Wang Yuen agreed with stage director Stan Lai’s enthusiasm that the global language of music has been used to tell the story of this classic Chinese novel. The audience was delighted to hear the story of Dream of the Red Chamber told in English. It added an element of freshness to a story that is already so well known.
Wang was glad that after the world premiere in San Francisco a year ago and the Asia premiere in Hong Kong in March, Dram had finally made it home to China. This was the first time an original American opera production had been produced in China. Composer Bright Sheng commented that ‘it was a miracle in Chinese history’ and stage director Stan Lai called it ‘a most exquisite, opulent and sumptuous production’.
One audience member, who came, armed with a healthy dose of skepticism, to watch a ‘strange’ production of a Chinese story in English, was surprised to find himself moved to tears. He was touched and pleased to see a familiar story presented in a new perspective; and was deeply touched by BaoYu’s heartbreakingly firm resolve to become a monk when he found out that he had been outsmarted and married to BaoChai instead of DaiYu. This audience member took his hat off to the creative team and the cast for a fantastic success.
Another audience member, while finding listening to a retelling of a Chinese story in English a bit awkward, was finally won over by the high quality of the entire production. He enjoyed it immensely and felt that he had seen the story for the first time.
Critic Wang went on to mention that this opera project was initiated by a group of Chinese Americans in Minnesota and produced by San Francisco Opera. They assembled a Chinese Dream Team consisting of composer Bright Sheng, playwright David Henry Hwang, set designer Tim Yip, and stage director Stan Lai. Together they went on to use the universal language of music to tell this most-Chinese story. In imparting a 21st-century perspective to a traditional story, they have succeeded in infusing it with a freshness that is totally different from all the TV series and plays produced in Mainland China.
When this production arrived in China, bearing international accolades, the Chinese audience was pleased to see that a western medium, that of grand opera, could be utilized successfully to tell a traditional Chinese story. That Americans could accept this Chinese story and that they themselves would gain a new perspective on this most familiar story was something that surprised and pleased them greatly.
Wang also mentioned that since the Hong Kong premiere composer Bright Sheng had been making small changes here and there to improve the flow of the opera. Sheng mentioned that in the love scene between BaoYu and DaiYu in Act I, right before the climax, he had inserted some flowing rhythm to intensify the tenderness between them. It gave everyone a wonderful sense of warmth, signifying that they had found their true loves.
Wang also pointed out all the places throughout the opera in which Sheng had inserted traditional Chinese melodies and instruments, marveling at his ability Sheng to combine them with western instruments.
Wang concluded with an introduction of the cast members, including an analysis of DaiYu by soprano Wu He. There is also a section on the choice of colors costume designer picked for the principals.
6. Changsha Evening Post - In the September 17, 2017 issue of the Changsha Evening Post, critic Fang YiXiang noted that for the two performances of Dream of the Red Chamber at the new MeiXiHu International Culture and Arts Center (designed by the famous Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid) on Sept. 15 & 16, there was not one empty seat inside the 1800 seat-Grand Theatre, while outside there was still a long queue of eager ticket buyers hoping against hope for ticket turn backs. Everyone was so touched and thrilled to witness this wonderful outcome of U.S. China cultural co-operation. Fang felt that Changsha residents had a special, hard to describe and bordering on being obsessive, yearning for culture, and watching this opera had transported them into a space somewhere between poeticism and the supernatural, leaving them dazed and somewhat ‘drunk’. He also marveled at the tremendous success of telling a Chinese story through the medium of western-style grand opera.
Stage director Stan Lai, who is no stranger to the Changsha theatregoers, felt that it was very important that Dream be performed in the country’s geographic middle, in addition to coastal cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. He would like to see Changsha, given its historical and cultural underpinnings, become a cultural epicenter, even exceeding the level of Beijing or Shanghai. That would mean to him that our culture had arisen. He was touched by the audience reception of Dream. Their fervent love and support of Chinese culture, in addition to their devotion, bode well for the blossoming of our culture in the future.
In a sampling of the audience after the performance, Fang found that there was a desire for many more future cross cultural co-operations to transform so many other Chinese cultural gems into operas, ballets, orchestral work, etc. Ending with a deeply felt rumination on artistic quality, Fang concluded that showcasing Chinese culture to native English speakers can only achieve its purpose when the artistic undertaking succeeds in moving them. That is when one can truly say that Chinese culture has arrived on the world stage. Dream is the first time this has successfully and effectively happened.
7. People’s Music - In the August 2017 issue of People’s Music, critic Cai JinDong wrote about attending the world premiere performance of Dream on Sept. 10, 2016. He was excited to be among the 3,000+ audience that evening and feeling the pride of the substantial number of Chinese attendees. He also witnessed first hand how an American audience readily accepted and appreciated a traditional Chinese story told in the medium of a western-style grand opera. He felt that the success and influence of this first-time ever undertaking would be enormous in terms of promoting Chinese works and themes among the western music world and audiences.
Cai mentioned that in the 1930s Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin was interested in creating a grand opera based of Dream. Unfortunately he died before he could begin. The idea had to wait another 80 years before it took root once again on the other side of the Pacific Ocean from China.
Cai went on to give the history of the development of Dream, starting from the initiators at the Chinese Heritage Foundation, Ming Li Tchou and Pearl Lam Bergad, to the involvement of David Gockley, then general director of San Francisco Opera, and on to the creation of the Dream Artistic Team including composer Bright Sheng and librettist David Henry Hwang. Cai lauded Sheng’s use of Chinese musical instruments and folk songs and incorporating them seamlessly into a western orchestra. He also explained the working relationship between the co-librettists Sheng and Hwang. Hwang said that ‘Bright provided the framework and I filled in the words.’ His challenges was how to use English words to bring alive the moving story of Dream.
For Sheng, the paramount goal of his music was to reach and unite with the audience. He felt that the closer his music could reach the audience, the better he could create an emotional connection with them, so that the story would resonate for them. Cai, a conductor currently teaching at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA, has known Sheng since the 1980s and feels that Dream is his most mature and successful work to date.