A Chinese Classic Reimagined
Dream of the Red Chamber is considered one of the greatest works of Chinese literature, detailing the intricacies of Chinese life and society during the Qing Dynasty. But how does one take a literary masterpiece with such a complex storyline and characters, and condense it into a two and a half hour opera? Meet the creative team behind the production, as they reflect on their joint efforts in producing a new take on this Chinese classic.
David Henry Hwang's work includes the plays M. Butterfly, Chinglish, Golden Child, Yellow Face, The Dance and the Railroad, and FOB, as well as the Broadway musicals Aida (co-author), Flower Drum Song (2002 revival), and Disney’s Tarzan. He is also America’s most-produced living opera librettist, who has worked with composers Philip Glass (1000 Airplanes on the Roof), Osvaldo Golijov (Ainadamar), Bright Sheng (The Silver River), Unsuk Chin (Alice in Wonderland), Huang Ruo (Dr. Sun Yat-sen), and Howard Shore (The Fly). Hwang is a Tony Award winner and three-time nominee, a three-time OBIE Award winner, and a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. His screenplays include Possession (co-writer), Golden Gate, and M. Butterfly, and he is currently developing an original television series for Lionsgate and Bravo. Yellow Face was adapted into a full-length movie for YouTube by the YOMYOMF Network in 2013. Hwang won the 2011 PEN/Laura Pels Award, the 2012 Inge Award, the 2012 Steinberg “Mimi” Award, and a 2014 Doris Duke Artist Award. He serves on the boards of the Lark Play Development Center, American Theatre Wing, and the Actors Fund, and as the President of Young Playwrights Inc. Hwang was recently the Residency One Playwright at New York’s Signature Theatre, which produced a season of his plays, including the premiere of his newest work, Kung Fu.
Daniel Knapp hails from Germany and joined San Francisco Opera as Director of Production in February 2015 where he has since been promoted to Managing Director: Production. He oversees all production and construction aspects for the company, such as technical direction; stage crew; staging staff; scene, costume, wig & make-up shops; co-productions and rentals; concerts, recitals and special events in and around the War Memorial Opera House and the Wilsey Center for Opera. Knapp is also the company's liaison for creative teams and new productions. Before San Francisco, Knapp studied music (Tuba) in Austria and the UK and was Artistic Production Director & Company Manager for Austria's prestigious Bregenz Festival producing Opera on the Floating Stage and in the Festival House. Knapp's professional work also includes serving as Austrian location manager for the James Bond film Quantum of Solace; director of his own opera touring company; arts, tour and event management that included work with Sting, David Copperfield, and Peter Gabriel; he was a host of a weekly radio show; worked as a stagehand on rock'n roll shows; and produced the world premiere of An Authorized Adaptation of Frank Zappa’s Thing Fish with two of his LIPA friends . Knapp is also a frequent guest lecturer at i.e. the University of Arts Helsinki in Arts Management.
Stan Lai is one of the most acclaimed playwrights/directors in Asia, known not only for creating some of the most memorable works for the contemporary Chinese stage, but also for creating bold new genres and staging innovations. He is artistic director of Performance Workshop in Taiwan and festival artistic director of China’s Wuzhen Theatre. Lai’s works, which include over 30 original plays, two feature films, and four operas, include his epic 2000 play A Dream Like a Dream (“The most elaborate theater work in Chinese history,” according to China Daily), and 1986’s Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land (“the most popular contemporary play in China,” wrote The New York Times). Born in the U.S. and based in Taiwan, Lai received a doctorate degree in dramatic art from UC Berkeley. He was a professor and founding dean of the College of Theatre at Taipei National University of the Arts and has also been a visiting professor and artist-in-residence at Berkeley and Stanford University. In 2015, his Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land received its American premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Bright Sheng is respected as one of the leading composers of our time, whose stage, orchestral, chamber, and vocal works are performed regularly by the greatest performing arts institutions throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Proclaimed by the MacArthur Foundation in 2001 as “an innovative composer who merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries,” Sheng’s music is evident with a strong Asian influence. However, it is the synthesis with Western musical tradition that makes his work truly distinctive and original, an outcome from his profound understanding of both cultures, as Sheng admits: “I consider myself both 100% American and 100% Asian.” In addition to composing, Sheng enjoys an active career as a conductor and concert pianist, and frequently acts as music advisor and artistic director to orchestras and festivals. He is currently the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor at University of Michigan, and the Y. K. Pao Distinguished Visiting Professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology where, in 2011, he founded and has been serving as the Artistic Director of The Intimacy of Creativity—The Bright Sheng Partnership: Composers Meet Performers in Hong Kong. Born in China, Sheng moved to New York in 1982 where he pursued his graduate works and studied composition and conducting privately with his mentor Leonard Bernstein. His music is exclusively published by G. Schirmer, Inc.
Tim Yip is an art director and designer best known for his work in film. In 2001, he won the Academy Award for art direction for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as well as a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for the film’s costume design. After studies in Hong Kong, Yip went on to work with many celebrated film directors, including John Woo, Ang Lee, Tsai Ming Liang, Stanley Kwan, and Feng Xiaogang. He is well known in Taiwan, having worked with the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Contemporary Legend Theatre, and U Theatre, among other companies. As an artist, Yip first gained attention for his “New Orientalism” aesthetic. He has presented many exhibitions in costume, photography, and visual art. He is making his San Francisco Opera debut with the world premiere of Dream of the Red Chamber.
Ken Smith has covered music and cultural developments on five continents for wide range of media. He currently divides his time between New York and Hong Kong, where he is the Asian performing arts critic for the Financial Times of London. A winner of the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music writing, he is a former house annotator for New York’s 92nd Street Y and has written program notes for Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw, Lincoln and Kennedy Centers, the BBC Proms and the Barbican Centre. His liner notes have appeared on recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Sony, Bis, Ondine, Naxos and others. A regular arts commentator on RTHK Radio 4’s Morning Call, he is the author of Fate! Luck! Chance! Amy Tan, Stewart Wallace, and the Making of The Bonesetter’s Daughter Opera. Two collections of his writings about music have been translated and published by Beijing Normal University Press (Moderator).