The first few weeks of January, falling as they do between the two New Years’, are culturally relatively quiet. The Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival, now the Beare’s Premiere Music Festival, has long been one of the major events brightening this relatively uneventful period.
Hong Kong Ballet’s annual Christmas production The Nutcracker has been a staple of the season since 2011.
Between Opera Hong Kong, Musica Viva, the Hong Kong Arts Festival and the Italia Mia Festival, Hong Kong’s opera year began to fill out.
Cao Yu’s Thunderstorm, written in 1933 when he was just 23 while studying western theatre and arts at Qinghua University, was the first of his eight plays. Set in the feudal society of China in the 1920s, the tragedy follows the complicated love entanglements in (and within) the Zhou family. Thunderstorm made Cao’s name by spotlighting incest and premarital pregnancy, challenged the conservative male-dominated society of the time, while reflecting the desire for societal change that had grown up during the revolutionary movements of post-WW1 China. The play has been adapted into six films, including Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). It was probably inevitable that it would one day be adapted for dance.
2019 has been a standout year for Chinese soprano He Hui: the debut of three new roles; a successful run at the Met, including her debut Met Live in HD performance in Madama Butterfly and her 15th consecutive year (a first for a soprano) of singing at the Arena di Verona. And this weekend, He comes full circle as she returns to the Shanghai Grand Theatre, where she made her operatic debut in 1998, to perform Turandot, the Chinese princess of Puccini’s opera of the same name.
If there is any work that typifies “Viennese operetta”—waltzes, romantic comedy, catchy tunes and a certain silliness—it is Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow.
“Prima la musica” (“The music comes first”) once said opera composer Antonio Salieri (at least in the title to one of his operas). Perhaps as a consequence, opera has provided, once the words are dispensed with, other composers with marvelous opportunities for transcriptions and adaptions.