Speculation on SF Opera's 2008-2009 Season
Washington National Opera's 2008-2009 Season

Farewell My Concubine

Farewell my Concubine* Notes *
The Chinese American Inter-Cultural Exchange Foundation presented an adaptation of the Chinese opera Farewell My Concubine this weekend in San Francisco, the start of a six city U.S. tour. The music, by Xiao Bai, initially reminded me of Tigran Chukhadjian's Arshak II, because of the clear Verdi influence, the obvious difference being that Arshak was written in the 19th century. Some of it also sounded a little like Puccini, a certain sweeping lyricism of the orchestral line. Interestingly, the music resembled the work of two composers known for their catchy tunes, without having any striking melodies itself. The piece was short, the whole performance was only slightly longer than two hours long, with the single intermission.

The singing was on the quiet side, nearly all around. The orchestra overwhelmed the singers from the beginning, but this was partially due to the noise of the smoke machines. Baritone Sun Li (Xiang Yu) was particularly difficult to hear. Tenor Jin Zhengjian lacked heft as Han Xin in Act I, but sounded better in Act II, when he sang downstage. Shen Na was warbled a good deal as Yu Ji, the titular role. She had moments in Act II that were lovely, she was never shrill, and her vibrato was not annoying. Mezzo-soprano Niu Shasha was the most audible, her aria near the end of Act I was the strongest of the first half. Su Jianzhong sang the part of the fisherman with fine volume, and great beauty. The chorus also sang well, especially in the scene of Qin slaves being driven to the state of Chu and the off stage singing in Act II.

The staging is traditional, the sets on the simple side, and the costumes quite sumptuous. Visually, it worked well, the choreography was elegant and not distracting.

* Tattling *
The opera house was more empty than I have seen it in a long time, though things did fill up a bit for the second half. Patina Catering was not there, so there didn't seem to be any refreshments. At least most of my favorite staff were around, usually I would not see them until June, since I do not attend ballet performances with any regularity.

Programs were available for the price of ten dollars. DVDs were also for sale, and one could get one's photograph taken with the lead singers after the performance.

Many photographs were taken during the course of the performance, despite the admonitions in Mandarin and English before both acts. Most of these were without flash, but some of the shutters were rather loud. I also noticed none of the high-pitched sounds that seem ubiquitous during the San Francisco Opera season.

The people next to me did not like the male leads as much as the female ones. They had difficulty telling the singers apart, perhaps because the supertitles were slightly confusing, as they alternated between Simplified Chinese and English, so they were not always synchronized with the singers.

I figured since there was no standing room, and it would be supporting a cultural cause, I would splurge, and found myself in Box J. Unfortunately, this is where one Carol Chen had her friends in as well. I am glad to report they were perfectly well-behaved, but I was hassled by Ms. Chen, the director of Chinese American Inter-Cultural Exchange Foundation and the spokesperson of Farewell My Concubine.

The 48th Miss Chinatown USA and Miss San Francisco 2006 asked me for my name and demanded to see my ticket at intermission, although I had to show my ticket to three ushers before that point. To her credit, she did apologize once it was clear I had not snuck into the box, and complimented my hat. I guess I should be flattered, I must still look young and poor, plus Ms. Chen certainly is striking. It was a bit odd to have one's presence questioned at place in which one spends so much time, I attended 45 performances at the War Memorial Opera House in 2007, a fact that I'm frankly more embarrassed by than proud of.

At any rate, I encouraged my parents to get the mid-range tickets when they go see this at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium next weekend, instead of the highest price ones they were considering. After leaving California, the performance goes to Washington D.C.'s DAR Constitution Hall, New York's Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, Houston's Cullen Theater in the Wortham Center, and Dallas' Eisemann Center.