By focusing on young singers, Opera Hong Kong’s summer semi-staged productions serve as one of the better crystal balls on Hong Kong’s operatic development. These late-August performances are the college basketball to the larger productions of the operatic NBA in the Spring and Fall, in which, if one is lucky, excitement and atmosphere can more than compensate for the occasional youthful lack of polish.

Reviewing a world premiere can be a privilege, albeit a somewhat daunting one. This first production of Beauty and Sadness, a new opera by Elena Langer to an English-language libretto by David Pountney, based on the 1975 novel by no less than Nobel Prize-winning Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata, is one of the most significant musical events to take place in Hong Kong in quite some time.

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.