BEIJING — A stirring dose of ancient Chinese passion lies in store for American auds, as composer-conductor Xiao Bai preems the first Western-style interpretation of the classic Chinese opera “Farewell My Concubine” in San Francisco, kicking off its U.S. tour.
The production, which began perfs Jan. 11, marks the debut of the newly scored opera, one of the rare times an original Chinese opera will be performed in the U.S. by a Chinese cast and sung in Mandarin.
“This is a very popular story in China, based on real-life events over 2,200 years ago,” says Xiao. “Almost everyone in China — young and old — is familiar with the story, which is deeply rooted in Chinese culture.” .
International auds mainly know the tale through Chen Kaige’s 1993 film of the same name.
Xiaoworked with librettist Wang Jian to Westernize the story and use an Italian-style operatic language, adapting it from traditional Beijing-style opera, a more stylized form that incorporates music, singing, pantomime, dance and even acrobatics.
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“After completing the lyrics, we had to fit it to the music, making sure that each note did not distort the meaning of the word,” explains Xiao. “It was very difficult indeed. That’s why it took 18 years to complete.”
The new version world-preemed last October in Beijing, where it was well received. The tour also marks the inaugural Stateside appearance of China National Opera House, one of the country’s premier arts groups.
After its stint in San Francisco, the six-city tour heads to Pasadena, Washington, New York, Houston and Dallas.
Musician Emily Kuo Vong is helping to mount the tour, along with the Chinese American Inter-Cultural Exchange Foundation, a Dallas-based nonprofit organization promoting cultural exchange and understanding between China and the U.S. through the arts.
The producers hope to take the production to Europe next, in addition to a possible return to China to perform during theOlympics in Beijing.