Why do people still sit spellbound through works of musical theatre that are dozens of decades old, written in and about times that have long passed from living memory? There is of course the music and the wonder of the unamplified voice, but opera is also, critically, about the story. There is love, passion, betrayal, pathos, death, hope. There is tension combined with, frequently, impossible choices. Our heroines are asked to choose between their families and their hearts, between a duty to country and a duty to themselves. Opera often poses universal questions—universal because there are no answers—and in that universalità there is unity.

In one fell swoop, Charles Wang—patriarch of the Wang family, purveyor of the American immigrant dream, cosmetic visionary and turner of “shit into Shinola”—goes from king to, well, cock:

 

In Chinese, in any Chinese speaker’s mouth, Wang was a family name to be proud of. It meant king, with a written character that was simple and strong. And it was pronounced with a languid drawn-out diphthong of an o sound that suggested an easy life of summer palaces and fishing for sweet river shrimp off gilded barges. But one move to America and Charles Wang’s proud surname became a nasally joke of a word; one move and he went from king to cock.