Opera Hong Kong’s recent run of Gioacchino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia was notable for an unusual production which frothily updated the action with a 1930s classical movie musical vibe—complete with the “Hollywood” sign as backdrop and dance routines in various period costumes—and perhaps more significantly for the Asian debut of young American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella, who took the lead role of the ingenue Rosina.
Western commentators are wont to complain that China doesn’t always seem committed to “international norms”. Robert Bickers’s new book Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination helps explain why: “international norms” were used for a century to justify encroachments on Chinese sovereignty.
The term “Chinese opera” usually refers to the traditional Chinese art form, but there are an increasing number of examples of modern attempts—such as the recent Dream of the Red Chamber—at a sort of cultural fusion of Chinese themes and traditions with Western operatic style and format. It is probably fair to say that none of these yet rises to the level of a Rigoletto or Carmen in the minds of either the public or critics, but the potential cultural rewards of a Chinese operatic repertoire successfully existing alongside and complementing the European ones are so obvious that is commendable and hardly surprising that the efforts are accelerating.
Anyone who wishes to opine on Hong Kong’s perceived troubled present and possibly fraught future would do well to read Richard Wong’s Fixing Inequality in Hong Kong first.
The so-called “Manila galleon”—more than a trade route but in its structure and organization what we would consider today a shipping line—connected Asia with the Americas for 250 years through the latter quarter of the 16th century to the first quarter of the 19th. By being the final bi-directional piece of the global trade puzzle, and by delivering the American silver needed for the China’s money supply, this “Silver Way” arguably ushered in globalization itself.
New operas are not perhaps as rare as sometimes made out to be, but it is nevertheless hard to underestimate the significance of Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber appearing at the Hong Kong Arts Festival so soon after its premiere at the San Francisco opera last Autumn.
There is a yesteryear quality to much of Gregory Norminton’s writing, at least in these stories, several of which look backward in style to classics of the genre.