September 30th, 2008

makaiju - thankGodforcoffee it's past my

Bonesetter's Daughter Opera

On Sunday afternoon my father drove my mother and I up to San Francisco so we could see The Bonesetter's Daughter, an opera based on the novel by Amy Tan. (Have you read it? I know I read the book in 2001, but I barely remember it now.) The music was a fusion of traditional Chinese opera and "regular" Western opera, which made it quite unique. Just check out the clips to get an idea of it:

I thought that the Chinese-trained singers did a great job; Qian Yi was phenomenal as Precious Auntie. (In the video she's the white haired woman singing about making her hands into a bowl.) Amongst other things, her voice was the easiest to understand. Without the supertitles I would have been lost for much of Zheng Cao's vocals, even though the songs are all sung in English. She also did a lot of speaking with gestures and her body, instead of just standing still like a rock. There was another singer, Wu Tong, who played a Chinese priest leading the souls of the dead who did very well, too.

The plot is quite simplified, of course. Ruth, daughter of Luling, sponsors a birthday party for her mother that goes awry when her mother has a breakdown as they discuss the OJ Simpson trial. Ruth is then transported back in time to her mother's village in China, called Immortal Heart, where she experiences her mother's disastrous marriage to the village coffin-maker and the curse of Precious Auntie, the bonesetter's daughter, who appears in every scene as a ghost. It's never really clear if Zheng Cao, the woman playing Ruth, is meant to be just Luling in the village scenes or if Ruth is somehow acting out her mother's life. (In the book, Ruth is reading a translation of her mother's diary, so it kinda works.) The opera opens with a bizarre scene of Chinese acrobats flailing around from wires; it's supposed to simulate a battle between a fire dragon and a water dragon but it's honestly just strange.

Side note: I HATE DIGITAL SETS. It's utterly sterile and depressing to have a picture of, say, a forest instead of building a set forest. I wish people would stop using them, but it's so much cheaper that I'm sure we'll just see more of this in the future.