San Francisco Opera presents Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber from June 14-July 3 at the War Memorial Opera House.
The musical retelling of the 18th-century novel by Cao Xueqin, one of China’s literary masterworks, played to sold-out audiences during its initial run at San Francisco Opera in 2016 and has since garnered international acclaim through presentations at the 2017 Hong Kong Arts Festival and a tour of China. Six years after its world premiere, the work returns to San Francisco Opera in the original production and with a new cast. The Sunday, June 19 matinee performance will be livestreamed and available on-demand for 48 hours, beginning the following Monday, to virtual ticket holders.
The source novel for Dream of the Red Chamber is arguably comparable in Chinese culture to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the West; it is widely known and continues to exert a powerful influence on romantic storytelling. The plot of the opera centers around the predestined soulmates Bao Yu, scion of the illustrious Jia family, and the brilliant but frail Dai Yu. Their union is complicated by a scheme to marry Bao Yu to the wealthy Bao Chai of the Xue family.
Born in Shanghai shortly before China’s Cultural Revolution, Bright Sheng is one of today’s foremost living composers who, as the MacArthur Foundation proclaimed, “merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries.” Of his score for Dream of the Red Chamber, the Los Angeles Times observed, “He uses brass, winds and percussion (Western and Chinese) in original and highly imaginative ways. Pitches bend in ways that sound almost acrobatically impossible. Chinese folk tunes get transformed into rapturously expressive new music, gorgeously colored.” Playwright David Henry Hwang, acclaimed for his many award-winning plays (Chinglish, M. Butterfly) and operatic collaborations (Philip Glass’ The Voyage, Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland, Howard Shore’s The Fly, Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar and the forthcoming world premiere at Santa Fe Opera of Huang Ruo’s M. Butterfly), worked closely with Sheng on the work’s libretto, creating a three-hour opera from a vast literary epic.
World-renowned theater artist Stan Lai (Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land) returns to direct what the San Francisco Chronicle hailed “a magnificent production.” The sets and costumes by Academy Award-winning designer Tim Yip (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) created opulent stage pictures, including an “amazing system of backdrops that rise and fall on cue, weaving together bits of rolling Chinese landscape in ways that are both literal and abstract” (Opera News) and lighting designer Gary Marder “bedecks the stage in vivid ornament while maintaining a suitably dreamlike atmosphere” (San Francisco Chronicle).
Taking on the roles of Bao Yu and Dai Yu are Korean tenor Konu Kim and Chinese soprano Meigui Zhang, respectively, in their Company debuts. A graduate of the young artist program at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Kim was recently praised for his “meltingly lovely tenor voice with easy top notes” (San Diego Union Tribune) as Ferrando in Mozart’s Così fan tutte. As a 2018 Merola Opera Program participant, Zhang appeared in The Rake’s Progress for which the San Francisco Chronicle observed, “The evening’s true star … was soprano Meigui Zhang, who brought both tonal bloom and alert precision to the role of Anne Trulove.” Chinese mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu will make her San Francisco Opera debut as Bao Chai, the beautiful heiress whom Bao Yu must marry.
Korean mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim and Taiwanese soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho, who both appeared in the world premiere cast, reprise their roles as Lady Wang and Princess Jia, respectively. Kim and Ho portrayed these roles at the 2017 Hong Kong Arts Festival and Ho on the Chinese tour. Completing the vocal ensemble cast are mezzo-soprano Sabina Kim in her debut as Granny Jia and mezzo-soprano Guang Yang as Aunt Xue. Yang, a winner of both the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and Operalia competitions, first appeared with San Francisco Opera in 2010 as Amneris in Verdi’s Aida.
San Francisco-born actor Francis Jue will perform the non-singing role of the Monk. Jue has appeared on Broadway in Pacific Overtures, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and M. Butterfly. Some favorite Off-Broadway credits include Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (2022 Lucille Lortel Award Nomination for Outstanding Ensemble), Cambodian Rock Band (2020 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play), Soft Power (Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award, 2020 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical), Wild Goose Dreams (Obie Award), Yellow Face (Obie, 2008 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play), Kung Fu, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Coraline, Falsettoland, King Lear, and A Language of Their Own. Other favorite theatre credits include The Language Archive (BATCC for Featured Actor in a Play), The King of the Yees (BATCC for Principal Actor in a Play, Scenie Award), In the Next Room… (AriZoni Award), Cabaret (BATCC), Red (Philly Award), Tiger Style!, The King & I, Kiss of the Spiderwoman (Drama-Logue Award), Miss Saigon (Elliot Norton Award), A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Film/TV: Joyful Noise, Chinese Foreign Minister Chen in “Madam Secretary,” “New Amsterdam,”“Hightown, “The Good Wife,” “Law & Order: SVU.” Jue is featured on the cast recordings of Cambodian Rock Band and Soft Power.
Singaporean maestro Darrell Ang joins the Company for the first time to conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus, the latter prepared by Chorus Director John Keene. Choreography, including for Bao Yu’s sensuous dream sequence in Act I, is revived by Colm Seery who recently supervised the dance movements for San Francisco Opera’s presentations of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (2015) and Giordano’s Andrea Chénier (2016).
The genesis of Dream of the Red Chamber began when Pearl Lam Bergad, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Chinese Heritage Foundation, approached then-San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley in 2013 about producing an opera based on the novel. From the beginning, this musical and lyric setting of the timeless Chinese love story was to have an English libretto so it would be readily accessible to non-Chinese speakers. Sheng and Hwang’s opera became the first in San Francisco Opera history to feature bilingual supertitles with text in both English and traditional Chinese.
Since presenting its first world premiere in 1961, San Francisco Opera has commissioned or co-commissioned more than 30 operas. Many of these new works have since become established in the international repertory, including Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, John Adams’ Doctor Atomic, Sheng and Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber and André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire. The Company has two new operas scheduled for presentation during its Centennial Season of 2022-23: the world premiere of John Adams’ Antony and Cleopatra (September 2022) and the Bay Area premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s El último sueño de Frida y Diego (June 2023). Three Company co-commissions that premiered elsewhere will be staged at the War Memorial Opera House during the 2023-24 Season: Kaija Saariaho and Sofi Oksanen’s Innocence (world premiere at Aix-en-Provence, 2021), Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels’ Omar (world premiere scheduled for the Spoleto Festival, 2022) and The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by Mason Bates and Mark Campbell (world premiere at Santa Fe Opera, 2017).
Sung in English with English and Chinese supertitles, the seven performances of Dream of the Red Chamber are scheduled for June 14 (7:30 pm), June 17 (7:30 pm), June 19 (2 pm), June 23 (7:30 pm), June 25 (7:30 pm); July 1 (7:30 pm), July 3 (2 pm), 2022.
LIVESTREAM: June 19 matinee performance
The Sunday, June 19 matinee performance of Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber will be streamed live at 2pm PT. The performance will be available to watch on-demand for 48 hours beginning on Monday, June 20 at 10 am PT. Streaming tickets are $25. For more information, visit sfopera.com/online.
FROM PAGE TO STAGE: DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER
Free Live Online Discussion: Friday, May 20 at 1 pm PT
Join Academy Award-winning designer Tim Yip (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Jay Xu, the Barbara Bass Bakar Director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum, for a discussion about the artistic inspiration behind Yip’s sets and costumes for Dream of the Red Chamber. Register for this free live Zoom discussion at sfopera.com/on-stage/dream-of-the-red-chamber.
IN SONG: MEIGUI ZHANG – Coming June 7
The next episode of San Francisco Opera’s Webby Award-winning video portrait series, In Song, will feature fast-rising Chinese soprano Meigui Zhang reflecting on her beginnings, growing up on the grounds of a music conservatory and raised by singer-teacher parents. In the episode she performs traditional Xinjiang folk music and French art song. In Song: Meigui Zhang will be released on June 7 in anticipation of her Company debut as Dai Yu in Dream of the Red Chamber. To view the free episodes of In Song featuring soprano Amina Edris, mezzo-sopranos Jamie Barton (with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck) and J’Nai Bridges and tenors Arturo Chacón-Cruz and Pene Pati, visit sfopera.com/in-song.
SAN FRANCISCO OPERA GUILD PREVIEW SERIES: DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER
On June 7 and 8, the San Francisco Opera Guild presents a series of Opera Preview lectures on Dream of the Red Chamber by critic and journalist Ken Smith. Each 90-minute lecture provides in-depth insight into the opera’s history, composer, story and music.
San Francisco Chapter
Tuesday, June 7 at 12 pm Zoom Webinar
General Admission: $10. Register at Eventbrite.
Tuesday, June 7 at 7:30 pm
First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, 1140 Cowper Street, Palo Alto
General Admission: $10
San Jose Opera Guild
Wednesday, June 8 at 10 am
Addison-Penzak JCC Silicon Valley, 14855 Oka Road, Suite 201, Los Gatos
Free to San Jose Opera Guild and Addison-Penzak JCC members; General admission: $10
East Bay Chapter
Wednesday, June 8 at 7:30 pm
Lafayette Library and Learning Center, 3491 Mount Diablo Blvd, Lafayette
General Admission: $10
For more information about the Opera Preview Series, visit sfopera.com/operapreviews.
Tickets for Dream of the Red Chamber range from $26 to $408 and are available at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, by phone at (415) 864-3330 and online at sfopera.com. The San Francisco Opera Box Office window is located in the Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue. Box Office hours are Monday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Saturdays phone only except during performance season May 14 through July 2). A $2 per-ticket facility fee is included in Balcony 1, 2 and 3 zone prices; all other zones include a $3 per-ticket facility fee.
San Francisco Opera requires all patrons aged 12 and older, who are eligible, to show proof of vaccination and booster shot along with a photo ID for admission to performances at the War Memorial Opera House. Proof of vaccination is required for children aged 5 to 11 (defined as two weeks after their final shot). Unvaccinated attendees ages 5 years and up are not permitted. If you are attending with any children under the age of 5, please call the Box Office at (415) 864-3330. All patrons must wear well-fitted masks that cover their nose, mouth and chin when inside the War Memorial Opera House unless they are actively eating or drinking. A non-vented N95 mask is strongly recommended for maximum protection. For complete information about the Company’s health and safety protocols, visit sfopera.com/safetyfirst.
To ensure flexibility for patrons in this transitional season, exchanges will be accepted without incurring a fee up to two hours before performances. Refunds will be available if patrons must miss a performance due to COVID. Refund requests must be made at least two hours before the performance.
The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue. Patrons are encouraged to use public transportation to attend San Francisco Opera performances. The War Memorial Opera House is within walking distance of the Civic Center BART/Muni Station and near numerous bus lines, including 5, 21, 47, 49 and F Market Street. For further public transportation information, visit bart.gov and sfmta.com.
All casting, programs, schedules and ticket prices are subject to change. For further information about San Francisco Opera’s 2021-22 Season, visit sfopera.com/onstage.