Abstract

Abstract:

Bright Sheng’s opera Dream of the Red Chamber, based on the eighteenth-century novel Honglou meng, premiered at the San Francisco Opera (SF Opera) in September 2016 and, by the end of 2017, had been performed in Hong Kong, Beijing, Changsha, and Wuhan. Ticket sales and reviews were so strong that in 2022, the production was revived—a first for a piece commissioned by the SF Opera. This phenomenal success occurred despite the difficulty of condensing a 120-chapter novel that most Americans have probably never heard of into a three-hour Western opera. In San Francisco, the production had to be both accessible to newcomers to the novel and not offend die-hard fans of this famous Chinese work. After introducing the opera, I discuss how Sheng created cross-cultural music by putting Western and Chinese elements in confluence with each other, evident in his use of both Béla Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin and Chinese folk and literati music. Regarding the latter, Sheng and his creative team further rethought the role of the musical instrument most closely associated with the literati, the qin-zither, in the story. I hope to give readers critical insight into some representative challenges and opportunities faced by the production, and provide a better basis for evaluating its accomplishments.

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