An Opera in Two Acts
Music by Bright Sheng
Libretto (in English) by David Henry Hwang and Bright Sheng
Based on the book by Cao Xueqin
Duration: c. 2hrs. 15mins.
Cast: 8 principal roles; SATB chorus (48)
Orchestra: 2222/ 2210/hp.pf/str/2 Chinese instruments
Commissioner: San Francisco Opera, David Gockley General and Artistic Director
World premiere: Autumn 2016, San Francisco Opera House
Story of Dream of the Red Chamber offers a great opportunity for a lush and fabulous opera production. San Francisco Opera, which commissioned the work and set the world premiere date on September 10th, 2016, has assembled the best possible Asian team for the project: Composer Bright Sheng （盛宗亮, a MacArther “genius”fellow), the librettist David Henry Hwang (黃哲倫, Tony Award winner), the iconic Taiwanese stage Director Stan Lai （賴聲川, also a playwright and film maker), and the Oscar winning set and costume designer Tim Yip (葉景添). The team focuses this tragic opera production on two folds: showing off the wealthy lifestyle of the 19th Century Chinese aristocratic society through the extraordinary marriage of music and drama. The composer Bright Sheng, who is known for his lyrical beauty and soaring drama, sets out to write his best and most ambitious work to date, with flowing beautiful singing and fantastic orchestration. At the center of the opera is an erotic dream scene by the male protagonist which sets the tone for this tragic, love triangle tale. The last image of the opera, in a white snowing backdrop, when the female protagonist slowly walks and drowns herself into her favorite lake, with her floating singing over the soft a cappella chorus, accompanied by only the harp and Qin (a Chinese zither), after the Grand Garden (the Red Chamber) is burned down by the Emperor’s soldiers.
Welcome back to my tale!
Of a foolish mortal
Who stepped into the world of illusions.
I take my useless words,
From a well of bitter tears.
Such a pity
That these loves of the heart
Can never heal our souls.
The Dream of the Red Chamber, a masterpiece of Chinese fiction, is a detailed, episodic record of the lives of the members of the Jia Clan, whose good fortune is assured when one of its daughters becomes an imperial concubine, and then declines after her death. The story centers on a love triangle consisting of the main character, Bao Yu, his beautiful cousin Dai Yu, and his future wife, another beautiful cousin named Bao Chai.
Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang have adapted Cao Xue Qin’s epic 18th century Qing Dynasty novel with a focus on eight central characters to tell the tale of the illustrious Jia Clan and traces the Jias' fall from the height of their prestige. Often considered as a semi-autobiographical novel, Sheng and Hwang frame the tale with a Prologue and Epilogue led by The Monk, who may be the author himself.
BAO YU/Divine Stonelyric tenor; age 18, A DIVINE STONE Comes from heaven to earth to as a mortal, reincarnated as BAO YU, the only heir to a prestigious, long lineage of high officials, appointed by the Emperor during the height of the Qing Dynasty
DAI YU/Crimson Pearl Flowerlyric coloratura soprano; age 17, The Crimson Pearl Flower has come to earth to repay the Divine Stone for watering her for 3,000 years with his dew. She is reincarnated as an orphaned cousin of BAO YU
Bao Chailight mezzo--‐soprano; age 19, BAO YU’s cousin from the Xue Clan, a very wealthy merchant family
Mme. Wangfull lyric mezzo--‐soprano; early 40’s, BAO YU’s mother
Granny Jiaalto; early 70’s, BAO YU’s paternal grandmother, DAI YU’s maternal grandmother
Princess Jiafull lyric soprano ; early 30’s, BAO YU’s elder sister, who rises to become the Emperor’s most favored concubine
Aunt Xuemezzo--‐soprano; mid 40’s, Bao Chai’s mother, Mme. Wang’s sister
The Monkmale actor; The Dreamer, who brings us into this world of Dreams. He may be a Daoist, a Buddhist, or the author of DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER, Cao Xue Qin
Maids and other females of the Jia Clan living in the Grand Panorama Garden, Princess Jia’s entourageFemale Chorus, Dancers, extras
Imperial Soldiers, Eunuchs
Male Chorus, Dancers, extras