San Francisco Opera’s Dream of the Red Chamber is a story of cosmic creation, of marriage choice, and of family decline, both financial and moral. It is a meditation on the nature of reality and illusion, of the interconnectedness of the dream state and the waking world. Thus the Monk begins the opera with the greeting, “Welcome to my dream.”
The Flower becomes Dai Yu, a brilliant, but sickly young woman
The Stone become Bao Yu, Lady Wang’s spoiled son, the sole heir of the Jia Clan.
Dao Chai – The beauty from the wealthy Xue Clan
At a discussion hosted by the Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco, Dream of the Red Chamber production designer Tim Yip shared how his designs were created in response to Bright Sheng’s poetic music. Also inspired by novelist Cao Xueqin’s talent as a kite master and author of books on kite artistry, Yip’s costumes are inspired by kites, people moving through space as broad fields of expressive color.
“I do not use detailed designs on the fabric itself, as in real silk brocade,” Instead, my costume designs are more abstract, allowing you to sense the body within—or perhaps the aura of character’s spirit.” Characters are distinguished by different colors. For Dai Yu, green reflects her living quarters in the garden, surrounded by bamboo. The embossed gold patterns on Bao Chai’s robe remind you that she comes from a rich family.”
Dreamweavers: An all-star creative team transports an epic Chinese novel to the operatic stage. Writer Ken Smith interviews composer Bright Sheng, co-librettist David Henry Hwang, and director Stan Lai. https://sfopera.com/1617-season/201617-season/dream-of-the-red-chamber/dreamweavers/
Chinese versus European opera
Along with the European operatic tradition, the opera Dream of the Red Chamber is also inspired by other traditional theatrical versions of the story, such as those of Peking (or Beijing) opera, Kunqu, or Shaoxing opera, particularly in terms of choreography, costumes, and set design.
How do these Chinese operatic genres compare with European opera? There is no easy answer, but production designer Tim Yip makes one important distinction, especially regarding sets. “Symbolism is a big part of Chinese traditional aesthetics. all you need are a few shapes and the audience can fill the rest of the scenery with their imagination,” says Yip. “Traditional Chinese opera contains formulas and guidelines in expressing emotions and actions; Western opera is based on creating quicker paced dramatic arcs. [For this production of Dream of the Red Chamber], rhythm is conveyed in the set and costumes, enhancing specific plot developments as emotions flare and then subside.”
San Francisco Opera recently announced that Sheng & Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber will tour to the People’s Republic of China in September 2017, traveling to three Chinese cities in six performances.
Delving Deeper into “Dream of the Red Chamber” by Stephen Roddy: http://sfopera.com/discover-opera/201617-season/dream-of-the-red-chamber/delvingdeeper/