Creative team introduces NCPA's new opera commission Sunrise

NCPA May/15/2015


Composer Jin Xiang, playwright Wan Fang and director Li Liuyi at the news conference of the opera Sunrise
Photo by Gan Yuan / chncpa.org 

Excellent operas were and will continue to be introduced one after another at NCPA Opera Festival 2015. On Jun.17, as a prominent part of the festival, NCPA's new opera commission Sunrise will have its world premiere. It takes the artists three years to finalize and will run for five days. On May 12, the creative tea — composer Jin Xiang, playwright Wan Fang and director Li Liuyi attended the news conference, interpreting the opera in depth and telling backstage stories.  

As a modern dramatist, Cao Yu was hailed as "Shakespeare of China'. His masterpiece Sunrise is the first Chinese drama to draw global attention. Set in the 30s of the 20th century, the semi-colonial era, it follows the life of the social butterfly Chan Bailu and reflects various social lives in Chinese cities by describing urban ugliness.  

As the year 2015 marks the 80th anniversary of Sunrise, NCPA invited Jin Xiang, Wan Fang and Li Liuyi, all famous in their fields, to adapt it into an opera for the first time and it will be on from June 17 to 21 at NCPA Opera Festival 2015, to salute master Cao Yu and his work.  


Composer Jin Xiang, honored as "Puccini of the Orient"
Photo by Gan Yuan / chncpa.org 

Jin Xiang, one of the authorities of opera in China, introduced modern composing skills of the West to East and integrated them with Chinese folk music, leading the boom of grand opera at home. In the 90s of the last century The Wilderness composed by him with lyrics by Wan Fang caused a sensation both domestically and internationally, being the first Chinese opera to be performed abroad in America, Germany and Switzerland. American press gave a high appraisal to it. Being the first oriental opera to get the nod of the West, The Wilderness has shocked American music world, which is also one of the most important events in the history of opera at the end of the 20th century. Jin Xiang also celebrates his 80th birthday this year while celebrating the 80th anniversary of Sunrise.   

Speaking of the composition, Jin said: "Both distinctive characters and broad theme must be highlighted in the music to be consistent with the message of 'hope' in the title. Meanwhile, it also needs to achieve popularity while stay symphonic and professional." To vividly portray different characters, the composer ingeniously divided them into four groups with disparate music styles. The first group is the heroine Chen Bailu and the simple poet, following typical opera seria. The second group Li Shiqing and Pan Yueting, being in business for years, mostly adopt recitative style. Next come the innocent Xiaodongxi and Cuixi living humbly in low brothel. They sing mainly in Chinese folk style with a little vulgarness. The last ones are evil characters of Chinese feudal society Husi and Granny Guba. Traditional Chinese opera and zarzuela music are the major patterns for them, with Husi performed by a countertenor. 


Wan Fang with the precious manuscript of Sunrise
Photo by Gan Yuan / chncpa.org 

Wan Fang is the third daughter of the dramatist Cao Yu. In regard to the creation, she said: "Sunrise has special meaning for me. It is so familiar to me as I have worked with my father to adapt it into a movie in the 80s of the last century and got a Gold Rooster Award. Afterwards, I revised it into a teleplay. Thus, I know it inside and out." 

Having a special attachment to the play, Fang could deeply feel its tragic theme and thus could vividly detail both the characters and society. In her view, what Sunrise depicts is a transection of the society from which the living conditions of various classes could be seen. What differs opera from drama, TV programmes and films lies in that its structure would be more-concentrated on plot and emotions.

 


Director Li Liuyi, hoping to represent the original spirit in the opera
Photo by Gan Yuan / chncpa.org 

The career of director Li Liuyi has been closely tied to Cao Yu. Li asked every performer to read up on Sunrise and related commentary like Directing Plans of Sunrise by Ouyang Shanzun. He also discussed with every lead about their understanding of the role. He believes that only by fully understanding society and human nature can we produce an excellent Sunrise. He tries to represent the original spirit in the opera: "Instead of investigating society, we would like to explore human nature. The struggle is more of human nature, or human with their living conditions and with themselves rather than with people of another class. I've found some of the most basic states of human beings in Cao's dramas, including embarrassment, plight and the magic power that material goods have on man. The truth is that man can spare themselves from material cage but not mental one. Cao's idea isn't outdated. He had keen insight even by the standard nowadays."  

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