Just three months after its world premiere in Beijing, Xiao Bai's
opera "Farewell My Concubine" is making its first appearance in the
U.S. Starting in the San Francisco War Memorial Jan. 12-13, this "first
Western-style interpretation of the classic Chinese opera" moves on to
Pasadena, Washington DC, New York City, Houston, and Dallas for one or
two performances at each venue.
The plot - a love story about the warrior Xiang Yu, and his
concubine, Yu Ji - is the same that inspired many works through
the centuries, including Chen Kaige's 1993 "Ba wang bie ji"
(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106332/), which focused on the lives of
Peking Opera performers through China's recent upheavals, climaxing in
the brutal Cultural Revolution. The music is the result of "Xiao Bai
laboring for 18 years to rescore a Western version of the story." Not
having heard any of the music, I don't quite know what that may mean.
Additional explanation: Xiao Bai and librettist Wang Jian have "developed
a new Western-style production distinct from traditional Beijing-style
opera (incorporating instrumental music, vocal performance, pantomime,
dance and acrobatics). This version captures the framework of a classic
Italian opera, but is sung entirely in Mandarin with English subtitles."
First Western style interpretation of Chinese opera? Probably not. San
Francisco's own "Grand Seducers: Don Giovanni Meets Xi-men Qing" certainly
came before "Concubine" (see http://tinyurl.com/26ptuy) and in some ways
Tan Dun is certainly in the picture.
Kuo Vong is staging "Concubine" as "a tribute to her musical mentor,
Xiao Bai." A graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Kuo Vong
is a professional musician and conductor in China and the United States.
She founded the Dallas Li Sheng Ladies Choir in 2004.
Along with its sudden appearance (the announcement came today, 10
days before the premiere, a lead time clearly insufficient to fill a
3,200-seat theater... twice), "Concubine" is also unusually expensive.
Orchestra front and boxes cost $200 per seat, the rest of the orchestra
and the Grand Tier are $150; the least expensive tickets - second balcony
- are $50. San Francisco Opera itself, not a particularly charitable
institution, also has a top price of $200, but the rest of the house
offers more financial relief than the visiting attraction, including
$25 second-balcony (rear) seats.
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