At the end of last year, San Francisco Opera (SFO) announced that the 2016–17 season would feature the world premiere of an opera based on one of the major classics of Chinese literature, best known by its title in English as Dream of the Red Chamber. This is a novel of epic proportions, whose first 80 chapters were written by Cao Xueqin. However, Cao died (in either 1763 or 1764) before completing the narrative; and editors Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan wrote the remaining 40 chapters. The tale involves complex relationships between the world of humans and that of nature. It is sometimes called The Story of the Stone, because its prologue takes place in that latter world, where a Stone accumulates enough moisture to enable the growth of the Crimson-Pearl Flower. Both Stone and Flower are then transformed into humans, who are members of conflicting family branches of the Jia clan, the Rongguo House and the Ningguo House.
The Dream of the Red Chamber opera was composed by Bright Sheng, working with a libretto that he wrote in collaboration with David Henry Hwang. SFO commissioned the score; and the opera is being co-produced with the Hong Kong Arts Festival. The world premiere will take place the night after the opening night of the SFO 2016–17 season, and it will be given a total of six performances. Staging will be by Stan Lai, who will be making his SFO debut. George Manahan will return to the podium of the SFO Orchestra to serve as conductor. The roles of Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu, the incarnations of Stone and Flower, will be sung by rising Asian singers, Chinese tenor Yijie Shi and South Korean soprano Pureum Jo, both of whom will also be making their respective SFO debuts. The opera will be in two acts with an approximate running time of three hours including the intermission between the acts.
The six performances of Dream of the Red Chamber will take place at 7:30 p.m. on September 10, 13, 23, 27, and 29, and at 2 p.m. on September 18. Performances will take place at the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue, on the northwest corner of Grove Street. Single tickets are priced from $26 to $417. Tickets may be purchased online through an event page on the SFO Web site that provides hyperlinks for each performance. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office in the outer lobby of the Opera House. Standing room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance. They are sold for $10, cash only.
Dream of the Red Chamber will also be given an Insight Panel. This provides members of both the cast and the creative team to share their thoughts on preparing this production. Time is left at the end of the discussion for a Q&A with the audience. The entire event is one hour, and it will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 1. The venue will be Herbst Theatre at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Admission is free for SFO members, subscribers, and students with valid identification. The charge for all others is $5. Pre-registration (including for those who do not have to pay) can be arranged through an Eventbrite event page. In addition, critic and journalist Ken Smith will give a 90-minute Opera Preview event in the form of a conversation with Hwang about the opera’s libretto. This will take place at noon on Tuesday, September 6, in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library and will be free for all. The Library is located at 100 Larkin Street, opposite the southeast corner of the Civic Center Plaza. Finally, the Center for Asia Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco (USF) will present SFO Dramaturg Clifford Cranna in an interview with Sheng about the creation of the opera. The event will include musical excerpts from the opera. This will be a one-hour event beginning at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, September 15. It will take place in the Xavier Room of Fromm Hall on the USF campus and will be free and open to the general public. Fromm Hall is located at 2497 Golden Gate Avenue, on the south side of the street, just before the intersection with Parker Avenue.