China hasn’t yet gotten much of an outing in western opera. It’s not for lack of material, but the most famous “China opera” nevertheless remains Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot whose relation with the country is tenuous at best. It has only been in this century that operas directly informed by China—and with direct Chinese creative input—have begun to appear on stage with any regularity.

With domestic Hong Kong opera productions leaning almost exclusively to more or less traditional readings of the stalwarts of repertoire, perhaps someone sometimes has to shake things up a bit. This is what the Hong Kong Arts Festival arguably set out to do by having Oper Leipzig bring Calixto Bieito’s unconventional staging of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

Opera plots can often strain credulity; Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, on the other hand, cuts close to the bone. The story—of an American naval officer who woos, marries and deserts a young Japanese girl—matters: it is a tightly-constructed narrative and attempts to reframe it, reposition it in another time or place, can be fraught.