‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ returns to San Francisco Opera

Meigui Zhang as Dai Yu in an early rehearsal of ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

In the second production of its new season at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco Opera stages the return of Dream of the Red Chamber. A Company-commissioned work, Dream of the Red Chamber is based on the classic 18th century Chinese novel by Cao Xueqin, with a score by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng, who co-wrote the libretto with David Henry Hwang.

Dream of the Red Chamber – which is as much of a classic in Chinese literary culture as is Romeo and Juliet in the Western World – revolves around a love triangle in which Bao Yu, the young heir of the illustrious Jia family finds himself involved. He is in love with Dai Yu, his spiritual soulmate, but is also attracted to Bao Chai, who is beautiful and more worldly than Dai Yu. In addition, Bao Chai comes from the wealthy Xue Clan, and Bao Yu’s mother, Lady Wang, has it in mind to arrange for her son to marry this wealthy heiress, in the hope that the Jia family will be able to repay a long-standing debt to the Imperial Court. This becomes of increasing importance when the Emperor rejects Princess Jia as his favored concubine, and the Jia family’s wealth is threatened, along with Bao Yu’s desired union with Dai Yu.

The poetry and sadness of the tale is related by a mysterious figure, The Monk, in a series of dreamlike sequences, starting with a prologue in which he tells of a stone which was left behind from the construction of Heaven, and a crimson pearl flower, which was nurtured for 3,000 years by dew from the stone. Stone and Flower wish to fulfil their love as mortals on earth, and – despite The Monk’s advice to the contrary – they travel to earth through a magic mirror. Bao Yu and Dai Yu are the human incarnations of Stone and Flower.

Konu Kim as Bao Yu with members of the San Francisco Opera Dance Corps in an early rehearsal of ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

Taking the role of Bao Yu, and making his Company debut, is Korean tenor Konu Kim, a graduate of the young artist program at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, whose most recent appearance was as Ferrando in Mozart’s Così fan tutte for San Diego Opera.

Meigui Zhang as Dai Yu in an early rehearsal of ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

Also making her debut with San Francisco Opera is soprano Meigui Zhang – a graduate of the Merola Opera Program – who takes the role of Dai Yu. Ms Zhang has recently appeared at the Metropolitan Opera as Thibault in Sir David McVicar’s new production of Verdi’s Don Carlos, and reprised her role as Barbarina in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Hongni Wu as Boa Chai and Konu Kim as Bao Yu in an early rehearsal of
‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

In another Company debut, Chinese mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu appears as Bao Chai. Ms Wu joined the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in the 2018/19 season, and has since appeared in roles such as Flora in Verdi’s La traviata, Mercédès in Bizet’s Carmen, Zweite Dame in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Siébel in Gounod’s Faust.

Hyona Kim as Lady Wang in an early rehearsal of ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

Korean mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim reprises her role as Lady Wang, as does Taiwanese soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho as Princess Jia, both of whom appeared in the world premiere cast. Mezzo-soprano Sabina Kim makes her debut as Granny Jia and mezzo-soprano Guang Yang is Aunt Xue. Ms Yang, a winner of both the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and Operalia competitions, first appeared with San Francisco Opera in 2010 as Amneris in Verdi’s Aida.

Francis Jue as the Monk in an early rehearsal of Bright Sheng’s ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

San Francisco-born actor Francis Jue who will perform the non-singing role of the Monk, is well known for his work in theater, including roles in the David Henry Hwang plays Soft Power, Yellow Face and M. Butterfly.

Composer, conductor and pianist, Bright Sheng is regarded as one of today’s foremost composers, whose works are regularly performed throughout North America, Europe and Asia. In 2001 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and in the same year, Mr Sheng was also the recipient of an American Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He won an ASCAP Achievement Award the following year.

An English libretto to Dream of the Red Chamber was planned from the outset, to make the opera easily accessible to non-Chinese-speaking audiences. Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang is probably best known for his 1998 Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly, which also won Drama Desk, John Gassner and Outer Critics Circle awards, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Included in his musicals are a Tony-nominated new book for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, and Disney’s Tarzan.

Francis Jue as The Monk and Konu Kim as Bao Yu in an early rehearsal of Bright Sheng’s ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

This production is again directed by award-winning playwright, director and translator Stan Lai who is known as one of the most celebrated theatre artists in the Chinese-speaking world. Sets and costumes are by Tim Yip, Academy Award-winning designer of Crouching Tiger – Hidden Dragon, for which he also won a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for costume design.

In his first appearance for the Company, Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director John Keene). Maestro Ang is currently Artistic Director/Chief Conductor of the Sichuan Orchestra of China.

Dream of the Red Chamber is sung in English with English and Chinese supertitles. It runs at the War Memorial Opera House for seven performances between June 14th and July 3rd. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

The matinee performance on Sunday, June 19th, will be streamed live at 2.00 pm (PT). The performance will be available to watch on-demand for 48 hours beginning on Monday, June 20th at 10.00 am (PT). Streaming tickets are $25. For more information, visit sfopera.com/online.

All photographs © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites:

Bright Sheng

David Henry Hwang

Konu Kim

Meigui Zhang

Hongni Wu

 Stan Lai

Tim Yip

Darrell Ang

ArtsPreview home page

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