This Sunday night at 8, KDFC broadcasts the San Francisco Opera production of Dream of the Red Chamber – an adaptation by composer Bright Sheng of the most widely-read and studied 18th Century Chinese novel. He was also co-librettist (with David Henry Hwang) for the new work, which pares the sprawling story down to size by focusing on a love triangle. It was a San Francisco Opera commission, suggested by the Minnesota-based Chinese Heritage Foundation.
There’s more information at our San Francisco Opera Broadcasts page.
When faced with the challenge of transforming one of China’s longest and most-revered books for the operatic stage, Bright Sheng says he looked at Prokofiev’s setting of War and Peace as a cautionary tale: “Dream of the Red Chamber, the length of the novel is more than twice as long as War and Peace. And had over 40 characters, main characters, and over 400 small characters. [Prokofiev] wrote a five and a half hour version, and it has a lot of beautiful music, but as an opera it’s not successful. Because the story is about War and Peace. If you’re a composer, you think about writing an opera, you beef up the sideline story, which is the love story.” The romantic triangle that he and David Henry Hwang focus on involves a pair of lovers who existed as a stone and a flower before coming to earth. The other woman comes between them as part of an arranged marriage to settle an imperial debt. “So it’s a very complex story,” Bright Sheng explains, “But at the same time, a very simple story. Because I believe the opera cannot tell a very complicated story. You have to have a very up front story, that you can simply tell in about one sentence. And then you can have the other things, like the political intrigue, as a backdrop.”