The Bonesetter's Daughter

The Bonesetter's Cupcake


Though the Fall portion of the San Francisco Opera season is half over, I'm still slowly working my way through an opera cupcake painting project based on what we've seen so far. This is a rendering of Act II Scene 2 of The Bonesetter's Daughter. Precious Cupcake was the most fun to paint, for obvious reasons.

Details of Painting | Performance Review of The Bonesetter's Daughter

SF Opera's The Bonesetter's Daughter Media Round-Up

Production Web Site | Press Photographs

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's 2008 Performances: The Opera Tattler Civic Center The Reverberate Hills Out West Arts | SFist | San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Jose Mercury News | Los Angeles Times | New York Times | Financial Times | Wiener Zeitung (Auf Deutsch)

Thoughts on the Final Dress: The Opera TattlerThe Standing Room

The Bonesetter's Daughter Opening

Bonesettersactii * Notes *
The opening performance of The Bonesetter's Daughter proved to be a rather maudlin and self-indulgent affair. The beginning was promising, the call of the suona players from the Grand Tier was regal and imposing, and the aerial acrobatics combined with projections of water and fire during the overture were impressive. The first trio of Ruth (Zheng Cao), LuLing (Ning Liang), and Precious Auntie (Qian Yi) was also pretty. It is too bad that the set makes such a loud squeaky sound as it moves forward during that scene, it was completely audible from the back of the orchestra level last night, as it was from the boxes during the dress rehearsal. It was also obvious that amplification was used for Qian Yi.

Unfortunately, the music lost focus from there, and seemed very much in the background compared to the elaborate plot, which seems to have as much to do with Greek tragedy as it does the book The Bonesetter's Daughter. Reading Amy Tan's book only confused me, as the characters and story line have been compressed nearly beyond recognition. The players here have been reduced to mere caricature, whether it is the meanness of the Kamen family, the madness of LuLing, or the evil embodied by Chang. I found it extremely difficult to relate to any of the people on stage because all of the personalities were so flat and the music did nothing to illuminate them. As over the top as scenes of urination, threats of vomiting, suicide, attempted incestuous rape, and castration are, all this in 2 hours and 40 minutes is simply too much and is not dramatically effective.

The production is overwrought, one almost feels that director Chen Shi-Zheng doesn't trust composer Stewart Wallace to pull the opera off either. Every moment is filled with either choreography or video projection, if not both. Particularly ridiculous was Act II, Scene 1, when LuLing is in Hong Kong, writing letters for abandoned wives. Not only is she singing about this as she goes, she waves a brush against paper on stage with an apparent wife and her daughters. So far this is fine, but do we really need projections of letters folded into boats to get this message across? Or dancers depicting abandoned wives wandering around the stage?.

As for a few positives, first of all, Act I, Scene 1 has a birthday cake flying through the air, which is certainly unusual. It is brought in by an acrobat suspended by wires, and she does some flips after depositing the cake on the table. The music as we enter Immortal Heart in Act I, Scene 2 was an exuberant breath of fresh air. The suona and percussion were all played beautifully, though again, the singing was amplified. Generally, the singing and acting were very good. Hao Jiang Tian was quite the villain as Chang, and his voice is warm and resonant. Qian Yi was an ethereal Precious Auntie, her movements were perfect. The way she could just glide on stage as if she were on rollers did make her seem otherworldly, and her hand gestures were gorgeous. Ning Liang (LuLing) sounded fabulous in her lower range, though she did have a couple of shrill gasps. Zheng Cao (Ruth) had no such problems, her voice is simply beautiful. It was very nice to hear her in a substantial role, finally.

* Tattling * 
The audience was respectful of this world premiere, there was very little talking, and I heard no electronic noise. There was some talking heard from backstage during a quiet scene in the second half of the opera, but this was not as distracting as loudness of the set in the first scene, so one cannot really complain. Near the very end of the opera, I heard a woman express aloud her confusion about what had just happened on stage. However, the work received a standing ovation.

The Bonesetter's Daughter Final Dress Rehearsal

Bonesetter-rehearsal I'm afraid that final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's The Bonesetter's Daughter has left me nearly speechless, and considered summing up my reaction in exactly two words. But I certainly don't want to ruin it for you, gentle readers. Instead, I offer some images that came to mind whilst watching the production.






The Bonesetter's Daughter Panel Discussion

Bonesetters-daughter Kip Cranna moderated a panel discussion on the new opera The Bonesetter's Daughter yesterday evening at Herbst Theatre. The panelists included composer Stewart Wallace, bass Hao Jiang Tian (Chang the Coffin Maker), and suona-player/rock star Wu Tong (Chef, Taoist Priest). There is much excitement surrounding the impending world premiere of the work at San Francisco Opera, only the ninth in the company's history. The evening began with a bunch of plugs for the book the opera is based on, the memoir of the bass, and most interestingly, the book on the making of this opera, Fate! Luck! Chance! by Ken Smith. The latter includes the libretto.

Most of the discussion focused on Wallace, how the project started, how the musical idiom for this particular opera was found, and so forth. Wallace had an interesting quote about how an American audience might think the music sounds Chinese, but that a Chinese audience would find the music rather American. He insisted that the music is American without being Chinoiserie.

We also got to hear how the opera was cast, and how Hao Jiang Tian and Wu Tong were found. We heard a recording of one of Tian's arias, which was promising. There was also a live demonstration of the suona from Wu. The instrument is incredibly loud, piercing, and wobbly. It fit my intial impressions of being much like the zurna, though it was again compared to the oboe, of course.

SF Opera 2008-2009 Preview

Sfopera-diana-camera-ctiee1 San Francisco Opera's 2008-09 Season Preview CD set came in the mail recently, and today I noticed that their podcast has also been updated. This the third season of David Gockley's tenure, and likewise the third time San Francisco Opera has sent out such CDs, in lieu of the yearbook of previous years. The cover of the CD set features Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi in the latest Met production of Bohème, instead of the Anna Netrebko photo used on the season brochure. Incidently, the Netrebko picture is also from the Met, the Romeo et Juliette that opened last year's simulcasts.

In his typically chatty fashion, Gockley introduces the season, discusses who will be performing, and gives the basic plot of each opera. He makes the claim that there are no Eurotrash productions this season, which is really no fun at all. How else will I be able to laugh whilst the SF audience boos?

The most attention is given to the world premiere, Stewart Wallace's The Bonesetter's Daughter, and notably the section on this opera is nearly 19 minutes long compared to the 10 or so minutes given to most of the others. Amy Tan speaks about writing the libretto, and the prologue of the opera is played, albeit with a synthesized orchestra. The most distinctive feature of the music is the use of the suona, which is a rather loud and almost annoying double reed instrument, not unlike the Middle Eastern/Central Asian sorna or zurna.

The introductions are useful, especially for the newer operas, as the aforementioned work from Wallace, Die Tote Stadt, Three Decembers, and Porgy and Bess. I was taken aback when Gockley mentioned the "Mongolian eyes and complexion" of Russian bass Vladimir Matorin, who was flown in to replace Samuel Ramey in Grand-Théâtre de Genève's Boris Godunov. This detail seemed irrelevant, not to mention odd.

In any case, I feel prepared for the season opener, Simon Boccanegra, which will be performed next week. After waffling for weeks about attending the BRAVO! CLUB Opening Night Gala, I've decided that this organization makes me feel uncomfortable at best and I do not have the necessary fortitude. Instead I will be in my beloved standing room, furiously scribbling notes, as usual.

Podcast | Official Site

SF Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 5-27 2008: Simon Boccanegra
September 6 2008: Angela Gheorghiu in Concert
September 13- October 3 2008: The Bonesetter's Daughter
September 23- October 12 2008: Die Tote Stadt
October 15-31 2008: Idomeneo
October 15-November 15 2008: Boris Godunov
October 29- November 26 2008: L'Elisir d'Amore
November 16- December 7 2008: La Bohème
December 11-14 2008: Three Decembers
January 10, 2009: Salvatore Licitra in Concert
May 29 2009: Verdi's Requiem
June 2-26 2009: Tosca
June 9-27 2009: Porgy and Bess
June 13- July 5 2009: La Traviata

San Francisco Opera's "Grand and Glorious" 86th season was revealed today, there are 78 performances of 11 operas, running from September 5, 2008 to July 5, 2009. Many big names this year, as promised. Angela Gheorghiu returns in La Bohème, Anna Netrebko in La Traviata, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Simon Boccanegra for the first time since he sang Germont in 2004. Samuel Ramey will sing in the title role of Boris Godunov and Frederica von Stade stars in the West Coast premiere of Three Decembers.

Another world premiere this year, no Baroque opera, three operas in English, none in French, but finally an opera in Russian. Inva Mula, the voice of the blue space alien singing Lucia di Lammermoor in The Fifth Element, will have her SF Opera debut as Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. She sings opposite of Ramón Vargas.

I am most looking forward to Kurt Streit and Alice Coote in Idomeneo. I am glad to see that Joseph Calleja is having his San Francisco Opera debut as Rodolfo in La Bohème.

Summer of 2009 will be the first time in three years that I won't feel compelled to spend every spare moment at the War Memorial Opera House. I have seen the Mansouri/Bosquet Tosca several times, though I do find this opera to be one of my favorites by Puccini. Porgy and Bess is intriguing, but I doubt I'll become obsessed. Though La Traviata will be great, and I'm glad it is a new production (from Los Angeles Opera), I am not holding my breath either. Puccini, Gershwin, and Verdi will get people into the opera house, but I'd rather hear Mozart, Gluck, or Händel.

However, perhaps I should go to Bayreuth in 2009, since I will have the time. It is interesting that there will be such a large gap between the San Francisco Opera this production of Das Rheingold and whole Ring Cycle, which is slated for 2011. I had complained about too many Rings, given that LA and Seattle both have them on the schedule for next year. It was reported that Donald Runnicles would end his tenure as music director here with the Ring, just has he began his career here.

Press Release [PDF] | Season Brochure [PDF] | 2008-2009 Official Site | Examiner Article