New Yorkers had their fullest opportunity yet to experience an important contemporary opera at Asia Society on Tuesday night, when composer and conductor Huang Ruo led four singers — soprano Jiang Fang-Tao, bass-baritone Benjamin Bloomfield, tenor Laurence Broderick (as Sun) and mezzo-soprano Toby Newman — and the 11-piece Ensemble FIRE in excerpts from his new work Dr. Sun Yat-Sen.
A portrayal of the founding father of modern China, Huang's opera had a well-received premiere in Hong Kong last October. Here in the United States, audiences had a chance to hear a concert excerpt from the work at New York City Opera's VOX Festival in May 2011, and this past January the composer led a set of excerpts (also with singers Broderick and Jiang) at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City.
But Tuesday night's Asia Society event offered a rare opportunity to put the work in a detailed historical and artistic context, with Orville Schell, Director of the Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, offering introductory remarks on Sun Yat-Sen's life beforehand and an interview between Huang and Asia Society Director of Cultural Programs and Performing Arts Rachel Cooper unfolding before and between the excerpts.
Reviewing Tuesday's performance for the cognoscenti, WQXR's Operavore blogger Olivia Giovetti called the work "an opera of striking artistic value" that "deserves every chance it gets to leave its mark." Giovetti goes on to suggest similarities between Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's vocal ensembles and those of the other opera about 20th-century-Chinese history, John Adams's Nixon in China — and also leaves open the possibility that Huang's work, like the Adams opera, could eventually find its way into the standard repertory.
Video: Excerpts and Q & A from Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-Sen (1 hr., 13 min.)