The book is China’s equivalent of War and Peace, and now it’s been turned into an opera. Is this the 21st-century Turandot – or something more authentic?
Dream of the Red Chamber is considered to be China’s greatest novel – an 18th-century epic by Cao Xueqin that runs to 2,500 pages in translation – so much so that an entire field of literary study in China known as “redology” is devoted to that novel alone. In world terms the novel is said to rank alongside such masterpieces as Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. And yet in the west, the novel remains virtually unknown (as Michael Wood commented in these pages earlier this year). But now the book has been adapted into a lavish new opera, which has its world premiere at San Francisco Opera on 10 September, with six performances in all. Can this American opera attract a new audience to this timeless Chinese classic?
“I initially didn’t want to do this,” says David Henry Hwang, the celebrated American playwright who co-wrote the opera libretto with the composer Bright Sheng. “It was daunting on so many levels with too many characters – over 400 in the novel – to be boiled down. I would be adapting something that would be under such a microscope from so many people who know it incredibly well, who revere it, it just seemed there were lots of opportunities to fail.”
Link : Dream of the Red Chamber: a Chinese epic bursts into song