February 16, 2015
Well before the world premiere of Bright Sheng’s new opera, Dream of the Red Chamber, which San Francisco Opera has commissioned for Fall 2016 with support from the Chinese Heritage Foundation Friends of Minnesota, the Company has announced the names of two of the key people responsible for bringing the opera to life in the War Memorial Opera House. American conductor George Manahan will lead orchestra and singers, and Taiwanese playwright director Stan Lai will do the staging.
To help raise interest in the opera, Bright Sheng himself will help introduce a scene from , Dream of the Red Chamber at the 2015 Stanford Pan-Asian Music Festival. Preceding the February 20 performance by the Shenzen Symphony Orchestra in Bing Concert Hall, which takes place at 7:30 p.m., Sheng will join conductor Jindong Cai for a pre-concert talk.
The concert itself, which repeats on February 21 without the composer’s presence, includes a love scene from the opera in which soprano Amy Owens, a 2014 Sullivan Foundation Award winner, joins tenor Joseph Dennis, who stepped into the title role of Huang Ruo’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen at Santa Fe Opera last summer. Tickets are available at http://tickets.stanford.edu or by calling (650) 725-2787.
Earlier on February 20, SFO General Director David Gockley will join Bright Sheng, co-librettist David Henry Hwang, director Stan Lai, and Stanford’s Director of Orchestral Studies Jindong Cai for a free symposium from 12:30 p.m.-2:00p.m. in Levinthal Hall, Stanford Humanities Center. Moderated by journalist Sheila Melvin, the panel discussion will explore the making of Dream of the Red Chamber, and the relationship between contemporary Asian and American music. A light lunch will be provided. This event is free, but RSVP is required for admission by contacting [email protected].
Manahan, who is currently music director of the American Composers Orchestra and Portland Opera, previously conducted the SFO world premiere of Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne in the fall of 2013. The former music director of the sorely missed New York City Opera for 14 seasons, Manahan serves as director of orchestral studies at the Manhattan School of Music and guest conductor at the Curtis Institute of Music. In 2012, he won the Ditson Conductor’s Award for his support of American music.
Lai, who returns to the country of his birth to make his SFO debut, is artistic director of the Performance Workshop in Taiwan and festival artistic director of China’s Wuzhen Theatre. After receiving a Ph.D. in dramatic art from UC Berkeley, he was a professor and founding dean of the College of Theatre at Taipei National University of the Arts, and has also been a visiting professor and artist in residence at UC Berkeley and Stanford University. He is the author of over 30 original plays, two feature films, and four operas.
The new opera is based on one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature, 18th-century Qing Dynasty writer Cao Xuequin’s Dream of the Red Chamber. The novel is thought to be semi-autobiographical, and reflects the rise and decline of the author’s family and, by extension, the Qing Dynasty. Its cast of characters and psychological scope is huge, and its observations of 18th-century Chinese aristocracy is said to be detailed and precise.