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.
Not all operas or performances are about the singers. The star of the Welsh National Opera’s performance of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Hong Kong Arts Festival was its orchestra and conductor Lothar Koenigs who did Claude Debussy’s seamless score proud.
Shukshin’s Stories is a dramatization of eight short stories by Soviet-era writer Vasily Shukshin (1929-74). If you know little or nothing about him or Moscow’s Theatre of Nations which presented it, you would not—at least among English-speakers—be alone and would have, at least until last night, had me as company. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it can sometimes lead to it.
Ballet, which communicates visually and eschews words, is perhaps the antithesis of literature which does entirely the opposite. So how does one transform an eight-hundred page novel with a dozen important characters and several major plot lines into a two-hour staging using only movement and music? You might well ask.