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Bright Sheng

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Dream of the Red Chamber (2016)
Text Writer
Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
2 Hours 30 Minutes
Female Chorus, Dancers, extras
Solo Instrument(s)
2S, 3Mz, A, T, male actor
Programme Note
Bright Sheng Dream of the Red Chamber (2016)
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   DAI YU/CRIMSON PEARL FLOWER: Lyric Coloratura Soprano
   BAO CHAI: Light Mezzo-soprano
   MME. WANG: Full Lyric Mezzo-soprano
   GRANNY JIA : Alto
   PRINCESS JIA: Full Lyric Soprano
   AUNT XUE: Mezzo-soprano
   THE MONK: Male Actor
   MAIDS, PRINCESS JIA’S ENTOURAGE: Female Chorus, Dancers, Extras
   IMPERIAL SOLDIERS, EUNUCHS: Male Chorus, Dancers, Extras

The Dream of the Red Chamber, a masterpiece of Chinese fiction, is a detailed, episodic record of the lives of the members of the Jia Clan, whose good fortune is assured when one of its daughters becomes an imperial concubine, and then declines after her death. The story centers on a love triangle consisting of the main character, Bao Yu, his beautiful cousin Dai Yu, and his future wife, another beautiful cousin named Bao Chai. Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang have adapted Cao Xue Qin’s epic 18th-century Qing Dynasty novel with a focus on eight central characters to tell the tale of the illustrious Jia Clan and traces the Jias' fall from the height of their prestige. Often considered as a semi-autobiographical novel, Sheng and Hwang frame the tale with a Prologue and Epilogue led by The Monk, who may be the author himself.

Score to Act 1

Dream of the Red Chamber, Act 2

The exquisite, soaring vocal writing reveals Sheng as a melodist of uncommon distinction.
Allan Ulrich, Financial Times,14/09/2016
Sheng has a terrific feel for orchestration. He uses brass (particularly trombones), winds and percussion (Western and Chinese) in original and highly imaginative ways. Pitches bend in ways that sound almost acrobatically impossible. Chinese folk tunes get transformed into rapturously expressive new music, gorgeously colored.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,12/09/2016
There’s a moment in Dream of the Red Chamber that creates an unforgettable tableau. A young woman, standing alone in a small boat, floats down a gently undulating river made of azure silk.

That image — poised, serene, accompanied by enchanting music — is just one of many stunning stage pictures created in Bright Sheng’s opera, which made its world premiere Saturday in a new San Francisco Opera production at the War Memorial Opera House…

Sheng’s score evokes the Chinese setting in swaths of orchestral sound: percussive outbursts, chattering woodwinds and string glissandi. Dai Yu’s alluring Act I aria is accompanied by the qin (a Chinese zither). Yet the composer employs a predominantly Western palette; one hears echoes of Bartok and Stravinsky in the opera’s forceful orchestral passages, arias and ensembles.
Georgia Rowe, The Mercury News,11/09/2016
…the score snaps into focus in a series of tautly constructed scenes that reveal the canniness of Sheng’s compositional strategy — in particular, his skill in crafting an operatic language that is a hybrid of Chinese and Western traditions.

Red Chamber is a gold mine of opportunities for vocal display, all of which were capitalized on by the Opera’s excellent cast. Dai Yu’s aria to begin Act 2, to take just one example, is one of those impeccable set pieces, elegant in both detail and formal design, that young sopranos will soon start adding to their audition lists, and Jo delivered it with consummate eloquence.
Joshua Kosman, SF Gate,11/09/2016
Sheng’s score for Dream of the Red Chamber drips with musical immoderation and deploys about double the high notes of most contemporary operas. The composer fully employs every instrument in the orchestra, understanding the dramatic punch each possesses. For a work so steeped in Chinese custom, he has chosen a broad array, stretching from violin and bassoon to gong and guqin (the stringed instrument related to the zither). Red Chamber is rooted firmly in classical European romance, though enhanced with well-considered ventures into Asian musical motifs
Ray Mark Rinaldi, Opera News,10/09/2016
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