Commissioned by San Francisco Opera

A Co-production of San Francisco Opera and the Hong Kong Arts Festival

China Tour Co-Produced by Poly Theatre Management Ltd. / Armstrong International Music and Arts Enterprises Ltd.

Chief Planner Wenpeng Guo

Creative / Revival Team

Composer & Co-librettist Bright Sheng

Co-librettist David Henry Hwang

Conductor & Music Director Bright Sheng

Director Stan Lai

Production Designer Tim Yip

Revival Director Reed Fisher

Lighting Designer Tien-Hung Wang

Choreographer Ran Arthur Braun

Chorus Director Oleksander Sharovarov

Chorus Master Valentyn Puchkov

Assistant Conductor Daniel Black

Assistant Director Jingfu Shi

Repetiteur, Coach & Prompter Jeremy Chan

Repetiteur Chen Chen

Chinese Surtitles Sharon Chan, Joanna C. Lee, Patrick P. Lee


Dai Yu He Wu / Jingjing Li

Bao Yu Yijie Shi / Lu Yuan

Bao Chai Lin Shi

Granny Jia Qiulin Zhang

Lady Wang Katherine Pracht

Princess Jia Karen Chia-ling Ho

Aunt Xue Yanyu Guo

Monk/Dreamer Pichead Amornsomboon

Ladies-in-Waiting / Flower Amanda Li / Ye Wang / Yu Xia

Eunuchs / Stone Lin Gao / Maomao Ji / Yongxing Wang

Ladies-in-Waiting / Beauties Jie Chen / Aimin Li / Yanjun Lin / Fei Lv / Miaosi Zhang

Dancer Yimeng Guo / Xinrui Li / Yanuo Li / Yongcen Liu / Yaxuan Yin / Xinyue Zhang

Chorus of The State Opera of Dnipro

Hangzhou Philharmonic Orchestra / Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra

Guqin Player Ying Sun

Production Team

Chief Coordinator Zhaohui Zhang

Tour Coordinator Pei Gao

Performance Coordinator Wenping Wang / Wen He

Production Supervisor Evita Zhang

Production Director Daniel Knapp

Technical Director Chao-Wei Fan

Technical Coordinator Baokun Feng

Associate Technical Coordinator Li Wang

Associate Tour Coordinator Mengyuan Zhao

Tour Manager Jane Xu

Stage Manager Annie Jhu

Associate Stage Manager Chun-Jung Hsin / Shao-Ju Chang

Stage Manage Operator Yuning Ge / Mingjing Gong / Minqiao Liu / Muyuan Song / Yuhan Song / Lanting Zhao

Head of Carpenter Jo-Hao Lei

Associate Carpenter Erbin Li / Xiangpeng Guo / Yuanyuan Tian / Danran Wang

Carpenter Operator Xuepan Che / Ching-hung Fan

Head of Lighting Engineer Jinlong Zhang

Associate Lighting Designer Chia-Yi Chou

Lighting Operator Yi-Jie Hu

Lighting Engineer Yanjiang Fan / Pengliang Pu / Tianci Wang / Xudong Wang / Yong Xiao / Wenhong Zhang / Fei Zhu

Head of Sound Ming-Hsin Tien

Associate Sound Operator Ching-hung Fan

Head of Video Nan Cao (& Associate Technical Director)

Video Technician Jian Chen / Jingyi Zhang

Surtitles Operation Christina Gao (& Tour PR Director Assistant)

Costume Director Linda Shieh

Head of Costume Wei-Jion Lai / Chia-Chen Hsu / Keping Zhang

Costume Operator Hongping Liu / Rui Wan / Xinyan Wang / Lan Wei / Qiyu Ying / Yuying Zhang

Head of Make-up & Wigs Emily Lai

Make-up & Wigs Operator Sicong Liu / Hao Wang / Jian Wang / Le Zhang

Assistant Make up & Wigs Operator Jie Gao / Wanlu Gao / Xuesen Gong / Sha Li / Ganyi Wang / Jingxuan Wang / Jinming Zhang

Company Manager Xuepan Che

Company Manager Assistant Abby Chen

Hospitality Coordinator Nan Ma

Tour Marketing & PR Director Norman Xu

Media Contact Liwei Bai / Lei Zhao

Editor Ruixue Huang / Qiong Guo / Shuo Tan / Ian Yin

Official Photographer Jun Han / Wei Luo

Official Video Zhennan Wang

Production representatives from San Francisco Opera

Costume Supervisor Kristi Johnson

Costume Production Coordinator Manuel Gutierrez

Technical & Props Supervisor Myron Seth

Original Scenery, Props, Costumes and Wigs constructed by the San Francisco Opera workshops

Additional costumes and wigs constructed by Armstrong Music and Arts workshops

Acknowledge: Production calligraphy by Patrick P. Lee


Written by Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang

Published by G Schirmer Inc

By kind permission of the Music Sales Group

Official Website:

Creative Team主创团队
Composer/Librettist/Conductor: Bright Sheng
The MacArthur Fellow Bright Sheng was born on December 6, 1955, in Shanghai and moved to New York in l982. He is currently the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor at University of Michigan
Librettist: David Henry Hwang
David Henry Hwang is America's most-produced living opera librettist. Hwang is a Tony Award winner and three-time nominee, a three-time OBIE...
Director: Stan Lai
One of the preeminent voices in the contemporary Chinese theatre, Stan Lai has been called "Asia's top theatre director," (Asiaweek), "the best
Production Designer: Tim Yip
As a world-renowned visual artist, art director for stage and film and fashion designer, Tim Yip continues to explore and communicate his aesthetic concept "
Cast Introduction演员介绍
San Francisco Opera
San Francisco Opera is one of the world’s leading producers for the lyric theatre stage since its beginning in 1923. Over the past 94 seasons, the Company has been hailed for presenting the world’s acclaimed singers, conductors, directors and designers in bold productions of classic grand opera repertoire as well as presentations of contemporary and 19 commissioned world premieres.
San Francisco Opera House
About DRC关于红楼梦

Dream of the Red Chamber, commissioned by San Francisco Opera from Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng with a libretto by Sheng and playwright David Henry Hwang, will tour to the People's Republic of China in September 2017, a press conference unveiled today at the late 18th-century Prince Gong Mansion in Beijing. Co-produced by Poly Theatre Management Co., Ltd. and Armstrong International Music & Arts Enterprises, Ltd., the Dream of the Red Chamber China Tour will travel to three Chinese cities in six performances.

The tour opens with two performances at Beijing's Poly Theatre on September 8 and 9. The work will then be presented as part of the grand opening of the Meixihu International Culture and Arts Centre Grand Theatre in the southern city of Changsha on September 15 and 16. Designed by the late Zaha Hadid, the Meixihu complex was among the noted British-Iraqi architect's last projects before her sudden death in March 2016. The third and final stop of the tour will be the Qintai Grand Theatre in Wuhan on September 22 and 23.

The Dream of the Red Chamber tour performances will be conducted by Sheng, marking the composer's first time conducting his opera. In Beijing, Sheng will lead the Hangzhou Philharmonic Orchestra; in Changsha and Wuhan he will be joined in the pit by the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra. The Chorus of the State Opera of Dnipro, Ukraine, will sing at each performance. Dream of the Red Chamber will be presented in the original production by acclaimed Taiwanese director Stan Lai and Oscar-winning Chinese designer Tim Yip. A "first-rate visual production, thoughtfully staged" praised the San Francisco Chronicle at the opera's world premiere at the War Memorial Opera House. "One sensuous tableau flowing into the next," said the Financial Times.

San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock said: "Dream of the Red Chamber had a profound impact in connecting San Francisco Opera to its broader Bay Area community. It's thrilling, then, that this impact will continue as Dream of the Red Chamber travels to China in one of the most exciting American-Chinese cultural bridges to emerge in recent years. I couldn't be more proud that San Francisco Opera was the birthplace of a work that speaks so powerfully to such a broad audience."

Chinese tenor Yijie Shi, who created the role of Bao Yu, returns as the young nobleman at the center of the drama. Soprano He Wu portrays Dai Yu; mezzo-soprano Lin Shi is Bao Chai; mezzo-soprano Katherine Pracht sings the role of the Jia matriarch Lady Wang; contralto Qiulin Zhang is Granny Jia; soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho is Princess Jia; soprano Yanyu Guo is Aunt Xue; and Pichead Amornsomboon is the Monk. Yijie Shi, Quilin Zhang, Karen Chia-ling Ho and Yanyu Guo were all members of San Francisco Opera's world premiere cast.

Dream of the Red Chamber had its world premiere at San Francisco Opera on September 10, 2016 and played to capacity crowds at the War Memorial Opera House and at the 45th Hong Kong Arts Festival in March 2017. The San Francisco Chronicle hailed the opera's "series of tautly constructed scenes that reveal the canniness of Sheng's compositional strategy-in particular, his skill in crafting an operatic language that is a hybrid of Chinese and Western traditions."

Adapted from Cao Xueqin's sprawling 18th-century novel, the opera focuses on the illustrious Jia clan and the love triangle of the Jia's young heir Bao Yu with two very different women: Dai Yu, his spiritual soulmate, and Bao Chai, a worldly beauty. When the Emperor rejects Princess Jia as his favored concubine, the Jia family's future is threatened along with the union between Bao Yu and Dai Yu. Framed by a dreamlike prologue and epilogue, Dream of the Red Chamber relates the poetry and sadness of the original Chinese tale as a lush and lyrical 21st-century opera.

The opera first took root when Pearl Bergad, Executive Director of the Minneapolis-based Chinese Heritage Foundation, approached former San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley in 2013 about producing an opera based on Dream of the Red Chamber. The operatic retelling was to have an English libretto so it would be readily accessible to non-Chinese speaking attendees and introduce new audiences to this classic of world literature. As in its earlier stagings, the tour performances of Sheng's opera will be sung in English, with surtitles in both English and Chinese.

Broadway World

An English opera entitled “Dream of The Red Chamber” will make its Chinese debut in September, San Francisco Opera announced on Monday.

Opera lovers in three Chinese cities, Beijing, Changsha and Wuhan, will have the chance to enjoy the opera over six separate performances.

Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng will conduct Dream of The Red Chamber during its China tour, meaning it is the first time he will have conducted his opera. Furthermore, the original production team, including playwright David Henry Hwang, Taiwanese director Stan Lai and Oscar-winning Chinese designer Tim Yip will join Sheng in presenting the creation.

Four Chinese members of San Francisco Opera’s world premiere cast, including tenor Yijie Shi, contralto Qiulin Zhang, soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho and Yanyu Guo, will continue to play their usual roles throughout.

Adapted from Chinese novelist Cao Xueqin’s classic work with the same name, the opera features the decline of an aristocratic family in imperial China and a love triangle between main characters.

Created by Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang, Dream of the Red Chamber had its world premiere at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco on September 10, 2016.

The San Francisco Examiner praised the opera as “metaphorically lush moving sets and colour-coded, intricately beautiful costumes provided brilliant visual elements” after its debut.


San Francisco Opera (SFO) will see its new production Dream of the Red Chamber go on tour to China in September, 2017. Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng created the opera, with Sheng co-writing the libretto alongside American playwright David Henry Hwang. The opera originally premiered in San Fancisco on 10 September, 2016.

Dream of the Red Chamber’s tour begins with two dates in Beijing (8-9 September), followed by two dates in Changsha (15-16 September). The trip ends in Wuhan with performances on 22-23 September.

The opera is based on Cao Xueqin’s 18th century romantic novel, which is considered a classic of Chinese literature. In it, a love triangle develops between members of two aristocratic families: the Rongguo House and the Ningguo House. As the story progresses the Rongguo House falls out of favour with the emperor, with their wealth and possessions confiscated.

SFO general director Matthew Shilvock said: “Dream of the Red Chamber had a profound impact in connecting SFO to its broader Bay Area community. It’s thrilling, then, that this impact will continue as Dream of the Red Chamber travels to China in one of the most exciting American–Chinese cultural bridges to emerge in recent years.”

Sheng will conduct during the tour – the first time he has conducted his opera. In Beijing he will lead the Hangzhou Philharmonic Orchestra, while in Changsha and Wuhan he conducts Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra. Four members of the original SFO world premiere cast return for the tour.

International Arts Manager

Donald Trump and the People’s Republic of China might not always be seeing eye to eye these days, but San Francisco Opera is proudly dispatching its world-premiere production of Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng’s “Dream of the Red Chamber” to three cities there for a total of six performances in September.

The opera, which played to packed houses in the War Memorial Opera House at its debut last September, will be conducted, for the first time, by the composer himself and will feature five of the singers who performed in San Francisco. Its libretto, co-written by Sheng and the celebrated American playwright David Henry Hwang, is based on a classic 18th-century novel about a royal love triangle that is widely beloved in China.

The tour, with Chinese orchestras performing, opens in Beijing at the Poly Theatre on Sept. 8 and 9. It then moves to Changsha for the opening of the Meixihu International Culture and Arts Centre Grand Theatre on Sept. 15 and 16, closing at the Qintai Grand Theatre in Wuhan on Sept. 22 and 23. As it was in San Francisco, it will be performed in English with Chinese and English surtitles.

“Dream of the Red Chamber” was commissioned in 2013 by David Gockley, then general director of S.F. Opera, but premiered in the first-year tenure of his successor Matthew Shilvock, who has carried out the original intent of introducing wider audiences to a classic work of world literature.

“’Dream of the Red Chamber'” had a profound impact in connecting San Francisco Opera to its broader Bay Area community,” Shilvock said. “It’s thrilling, then, that this impact will continue as ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ travels to China in one of the most exciting American-Chinese cultural bridges to emerge in recent years.”

The Mercury News

Bright Sheng


The MacArthur Fellow Bright Sheng was born on December 6, 1955, in Shanghai and moved to New York in l982. He is currently the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor at University of Michigan, and Y. K. Pao Distinguished Visiting Professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Sheng has collaborated with distinguished musicians such as Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Masur, Christoph Eschenbach, Charles Dutoit, Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Slatkin, Gerard Schwarz, David Robertson, David Zinman, Neeme Järvi, Robert Spano, Hugh Wolff, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Gil Shaham, Yefim Bronfman, Lynn Harrell, Peter Serkin, Chao-Liang Lin and Evelyn Glennie. He has been widely commissioned and performed by many important institutions in North America, Europe and Asia, including the White House, the 2008 Beijing International Olympic Games, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, LA Philharmonic, Minnesota Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestra de Paris, BBC Symphony, Hamburg Radio Symphony, Danish National Symphony, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Santa Fe Opera, New York City Opera, New York City Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.

Exclusively published by G. Schirmer Inc. in New York City, Sheng has recordings on Sony, Decca, and 12 exclusive discs on Naxos, Talarc, Delos, Koch International, New World labels and BIS.

In September 2016, San Francisco Opera premiered Sheng’s commissioned opera Dream of The Red Chamber featuring a libretto by David Henry Hwang and Sheng based on a beloved 18th-century Chinese novel by Cao Xueqin. Co-produced with the Hong Kong Arts Festival, the opera sold out its runs in both places. In September, Sheng conducts his opera in a three-city tour of China.

As a conductor, he has worked with the San Francisco Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Shanghai Symphony, St. Petersburg Philharmonic in Russia, Dortmund Philharmonic in Germany, China National Symphony, among others; and has appeared at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center.

Since 2011, he has been the Founder and Artistic Director of The Intimacy of Creativity—The Bright Sheng Partnership: Composers Meet Performers in Hong Kong, an annual two-week workshop with a new approach to creativity.

David Henry Hwang


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 (1,000 Airplanes on the Roof), Osvaldo Golijov (Ainadamar), Bright Sheng (The Silver River), Unsuk Chin (Alice in Wonderland), Huang Ruo (An American Soldier), 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 a writer/producer for the Golden Globe-winning TV series, The Affair.

Hwang serves as Head of Playwriting at Columbia University School of the Arts, and as Chair of the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards.

A revival of M. Butterfly, starring Clive Owen and directly by Julie Taymor, will open on Broadway in fall 2017.

Stan Lai


One of the preeminent voices in the contemporary Chinese theatre, Stan Lai has been called "Asia's top theatre director," (Asiaweek), "the best Chinese language playwright and director in the world," (BBC) "one of the most celebrated Chinese-language playwrights and directors," (New York Times) and "Asia's flagship playwright." (China Daily)

Lai's work helped revolutionize modern theatre in Taiwan in the 1980s, and later, through performances throughout China, influenced a generation of theatre artists and helped create a viable audience base for contemporary theatre in China. His 35 original plays to date include many iconic works of the Chinese language theatre. The New York Times calls his Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land (1986) "the most popular contemporary play in China." The Beijing News calls his The Village (2008) "the pinnacle of our era of theatre." China Daily calls his epic 8 hour A Dream Like A Dream (2000) "possibly the greatest Chinese-language play since time immemorial," comparing it to the novel Dream of the Red Chamber as "the most elaborate theater work in Chinese history." Lai's previous opera credits include Journey to the West, the libretto of which he wrote, and Mozart's Figaro, Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni.

Lai's feature films The Peach Blossom Land and The Red Lotus Society received awards at the Tokyo, Berlin and Singapore festivals. His creation and direction of the 2009 Deaflympics Opening Ceremony in Taipei was acclaimed as "unforgettable." (China Post) His book On Creativity (in Chinese only) has become a classic in creative studies. Lai holds a Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from the University of California, Berkeley, and has taught extensively at the Taipei National University of the Arts, and at Berkeley and Stanford. In 2013 Lai co-founded the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, which has become China's top festival. In 2015 he opened Theatre Above in Shanghai, dedicated to the performance of his works.

Tim Yip

Production Designer

As a world-renowned visual artist, art director for stage and film and fashion designer, Tim Yip continues to explore and communicate his aesthetic oft "New Orientalism." his interpretation of ancient culture as a means to inspire the future. He works widely in contemporary art, clothing, theatre, film, literature and other creative fields. For Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Yip won the Oscar in 2001 for Best Art Direction, becoming the first Chinese to be awarded by the Academy in that category.

Since joining his first movie A Better Tomorrow (1986), Yip has created sets and costumes for many films, cooperating with world famous directors such as John Woo, Ang Li, Feng Xiaogang, Cai Mingliang, Chen Guofu, Guan Jinpeng, Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Li Shaohong and more. His films include Red Cliff, The Banquet, Back to 1942, The Message, The Promise, Springtime in Small Town, Ming Ghost, Rouge, Temptation of a Monk, Ripening Orange, the NETFLIX television series Marco Polo and many others embodying a spirit of creativity and the cultural atmosphere from which they sprung. He is currently focusing on the Fengshen Trilogy, the first film of the trilogy scheduled for release in 2020.

In the theatre, Tim Yip has collaborated with many world-renowned practitioners and groups, including Robert Wilson, Franco Dragone, Zhang Yimou, Stan Lai, Yang Liping, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Contemporary Legend Theater, Han Tang Yue Fu, Swarovski Troupe and U Theatre. His theatre productions include Medea, The Feast of Han Xizai, The Palace of Eternal Youth, A Dream like a Dream, The Peacock, and Under Siege, working with San Francisco Opera, Sadler's Wells, the Joyce Theater, Palais de Chaillot, Opera-Comique Paris, Graz Opera House, Beijing’s National Center of Performing Arts, and Taipei National Palace Museum, among others. He has participated in the Edinburgh Festival, Avignon Festival, Lyon Dance Biennale and a number of other international arts festivals. In 2004, Tim Yip was the visual designer for the Athens Olympic Games closing ceremony. In 2010, he collaborated with world-renowned choreographer and dancer Akram Khan as visual artist (set and costume design) for Desh, which won the American Bessie Award and the British Olivier Award. Yip and Khan have since collaborated on Until the Lions, and in 2016 with the English National Ballet on its new production of Giselle. In September 2016, Yip designed costumes and sets for San Fransisco Opera’s world premiere of Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, directed by Stan Lai, which had its Asia premiere at the Hong Kong Arts Festival in March 2017. Yip’s footprints can be found in China, Austria, France, the United States, Britain, Spain, Japan, Israel and across the globe.


Beggars drift through the ruins of a once-great home as a monk appears. He needs to tell the world an extraordinary story: a stone, left behind from the construction of Heaven, nurtured a crimson pearl flower with its dew for 3,000 years. Together, Stone and Flower seek to fulfill their love by living as mortals on earth. The Monk tries to dissuade them from such a course. But Stone and Flower disobey, traveling through a magic mirror to earth.


Scene 1: The Grand Hall

Flower becomes Dai Yu, a brilliant but sickly young woman whose mother has just died. She arrives in the home of one of the dynasty’s most prestigious old families, the Jia clan. Granny Jia, Dai Yu’s grandmother, loved Dai Yu’s late mother. But Lady Wang, Granny Jia’s daughter-in-law, takes an immediate dislike to the newcomer.

The Stone becomes the Jia’s sole male heir: Bao Yu, Lady Wang’s son, a spoiled youth born with a piece of jade in his mouth. When introduced, Bao Yu and Dai Yu feel they have met before. Envoys from the Emperor announce the promotion of Bao Yu’s elder sister to the coveted rank of Princess. For generations, the Jias have owed a huge debt to the Imperial Court, but Princess Jia’s promotion

suggests that the Emperor might be willing to make peace with his long-time rivals.

Scene 2: Dai Yu’s chamber

Later that night, Bao Yu hears Dai Yu playing the qin (a stringed instrument). They begin to write poems together; her skill is superior. They resolve to transform the world with music.

Scene 3: Pear Court Pavilion

The seasons change as time passes. To counter Dai Yu’s influence, Lady Wang brings her niece, the beautiful Bao Chai from the wealthy Xue clan, into their home. Her mother, Aunt Xue, seeks entrée to high society, while Lady Wang seeks to repay the Imperial debt; they hope to make a match. Though Bao Chai is perfect in so many ways, Bao Yu is disgusted by her practicality. Granny, on the other hand, hopes her grandson will marry Dai Yu.

Scene 4: Bao Yu’s chamber

Bao Yu has an erotic dream in which both women appear. Though attracted to Bao Chai, he feels Dai Yu is his soulmate.

Scene 5: The Grand Hall

Princess Jia arrives home for a visit. She tells Lady Wang that the palace is filled with enemies, and she fears she cannot keep her position. The Emperor wants Bao Yu to marry Bao Chai, and the Princess gives them both the same gift to symbolize these wishes. This delights Lady Wang, upsets Granny, and throws Dai Yu into despair. But Bao Yu resolves their love will triumph.


Scene 1: Bamboo grove

Dai Yu’s health continues to decline. On the bank of her favorite lake, she buries the falling peach blossom petals. Overhearing her, Bao Yu is profoundly moved. She teases him about the Princess’ wish for him to marry Bao Chai, and storms off. But she overhears Bao Yu declaring that he remains devoted to her.

Bao Chai enters, meeting Dai Yu for the first time.

Scene 2: Princess Jia’s quarters at the palace / Granny’s chamber

Princess Jia writes a desperate letter to her family informing them that she has lost the power struggle and will be dead by the time they read this. There is only one way for the Jias to save themselves.

Granny Jia falls ill. She declares that she wants her grandson to marry Dai Yu. A eunuch arrives, bearing the letter from the Princess. Granny Jia dies, sending the clan into mourning.

Scene 3: A hall in the estate

Now head of the clan, Lady Wang orders her son to carry out the Emperor’s wishes and marry Bao Chai. This is the only way to pay back the Imperial debt. She has sent Dai Yu away to the other side of the lake. Bao Yu is defiant.

Scene 4: Far side of the lake / Bamboo grove

Dai Yu burns the poems she and Bao Yu wrote. But Bao Yu makes a stand for love, and tells Lady Wang he will become a monk. Defeated, Lady Wang agrees to let Bao Yu marry Dai Yu.

Scene 5: The Grand Hall

At the wedding, Bao Yu exchanges vows with his bride, who is veiled. Once they are married, Bao Yu discovers he has actually married Bao Chai, tricked by Aunt Xue and Lady Wang! Suddenly, Imperial soldiers storm in to confiscate all property of the Jia and Xue clans. The Emperor only encouraged this marriage so that when he arrested the Jias, he could also seize the Xue fortune. The soldiers sack and burn the estate.

Scene 6: Lake / Monk’s room

We realize that the Monk is Bao Yu’s older self, writing his own life story. After the wedding, Dai Yu slowly walks into the lake, where she disappears. The Jia family has become beggars, wandering through the illusion known as life.

It wasn’t the first time that the San Francisco Opera had looked toward China. That was in 2008, with Stewart Wallace’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter, with a libretto by Bay Area native Amy Tan based on her novel. And of course, there was John Adams’s Nixon in China. Neither of those, though, could properly be called a Chinese classic.

But Dream of the Red Chamber, which has its world premiere on September 10, 2016 at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House—and continued on to the Hong Kong Arts Festival in March 2017—is not just a classic. To millions of Chinese readers, it’s the classic. Cao Xueqin’s epic novel of ill-fated love amidst a prominent family’s spiraling decline has inspired numerous films and spoken dramas, two television series and far too many Chinese operas to count. But never before has the story made it—in English, no less—to the international operatic stage.

The creators of Red Chamber—the Dream team, if you will—are notable not just for their personal accomplishments but also the breadth of their background. The range of perspectives from MacArthur-winning Shanghai-born composer Bright Sheng, Tony-winning American-born playwright David Henry Hwang, American-born Taiwanese director Stan Lai and Oscar-winning Hong Kong-born designer Tim Yip were perfectly pitched to haul San Francisco audiences into another culture and era. The composer, librettist and director got together to share different perspectives on turning one of China’s most beloved novels into a contemporary musical drama.


Dream of the Red Chamber is almost universally known in the Chinese world but barely registers at all with readers in the West. What was your personal relationship with the story before this project began?

BRIGHT SHENG: I first started reading Dream of the Red Chamber when I was 12 or 13, which is about the same age as Bao Yu in the novel. This was during the Cultural Revolution, and I wished that I too could be surrounded by beautiful women and have his extravagant lifestyle. That was the initial attraction. Later on, in my late teens, I read the book again and began to appreciate the literary content. I’d skipped over all the poetry before, but now I noticed the narrative techniques. I still didn't pay much attention to the scholarly details until later. I’ve reread the book every 10 years or so, and since I got the commission to write the opera, I read it through twice more. So now I’m a dilettante Redologist, which is what they call academics who devote themselves to studying the novel. At least I could have a meaningful conversation with a real Redologist.

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I had no real relationship with the material. I mean, I knew it was one of the four great Chinese novels, along with The Three Kingdoms, The Water Margin and Journey to the West. But my Chinese is horrible, so I couldn’t actually read it in the original language. And even now my knowledge of the book is still pretty superficial. But I have the benefit of collaborating with Bright, who has a long history with the novel, and Stan, who’s digested Dream of the Red Chamber throughout most of his professional life.

STAN LAI: Dream of the Red Chamber has resonated with me ever since I first read it as a freshman in college. It had all the elements of a popular novel, and yet transcends mere popularity. Some of the story’s structural sensibility has made its way into my own work, particularly the idea that something so simple and normal-looking on the surface can underneath be very profound. Much of the profundity in Red Chamber comes from the way the author opens with the stone and the flower, which becomes a metaphor encapsulating elements of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism—the three incredibly vast philosophical systems that work together in making up the Chinese mind.

How did each of you get involved in the project?

SHENG: Pearl Bergad at the Chinese Heritage Foundation in Minnesota had this crazy idea to do an opera of Red Chamber in English. The foundation first approached Kevin Smith at the Minnesota Opera, who arranged a meeting with David Gockley, who approached me. And then I approached David Hwang, whom I’d worked with before. He didn’t want to do it at first, but I persuaded him.

HWANG: I said absolutely no, I’m not going to adapt this story into an opera, because it just seemed impossible. The book is twice as long as War and Peace, with more than 400 characters. How can you shape that into a two-and-a–half-hour show that has any relationship to the source material or respects it in any measurable way? But Bright grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution and I grew up in Los Angeles, so consequently his will is much stronger than mine. First, he said, “At some point in your life you have to read this book, so here’s your chance.” But more importantly, Bright had a vision of how to tell the story. So I agreed, provided we share the credit, since half the work of a librettist is determining the structure.

SHENG: I did a rough draft—more of a synopsis, really—that David was very happy with, and after that we worked very closely. I had a general vision, but he wrote every word. He was able to sketch rich domestic scenes and bring out the different personalities of each character in only a few lines. That was masterful. And moreover, I just love the beauty of his words.

LAI: I came into the project after the first draft of the full libretto was finished, and I immediately embraced the major choices that David and Bright had made. It was, I should add, a gross simplification of the novel. The process is by definition rough and insulting to the author, even if you’re being loyal to the story. So while there’s a big discount in terms of detail and dialogue, we’ve tried not to discount the novel’s profundity.

We’ve established that Red Chamber is a teeming epic, even by operatic standards. What did it take to restructure 2,500 pages into a manageable two-act opera?

SHENG: We all had long conversations about just what this novel is about, which is something not even Redologists agree on. In opera, you have to boil down the material to one major element. The problem with War and Peace as an opera—and Prokofiev was an experienced composer—is that he wasn’t daring enough in choosing what to cut. In the novel, the love story was just a sideline. In an opera, of course, you want to beef up the love story. You can’t disregard the politics, since that’s what the novel was all about. So in the end the opera tried to do both equally and lost focus. For us, Red Chamber is a love story. The main point isn’t the political intrigue, though we’ve kept that as the historical backdrop.

HWANG: It’s easier to talk about what we kept than what we jettisoned. The love triangle, I think, is a pretty universal element. People can relate to that, and it’s essential and true to the novel. And operas function very effectively when they're about love and loss and passion and, well, suicide. But we also have the Jia family, an incredibly wealthy, established family now in decline. There’s a constant tension just below the surface, which later became a metaphor for the decline of Imperial China, sort of like Downtown Abbey of the Qing Dynasty. And so elements that have to do with the political machinations and how the Emperor manipulates this corruption to bring down the family is a crucial sociopolitical aspect of the story. And also, it’s just good plot material, in a sort of House of Cards fashion.

LAI: As far as the original material is concerned, we’ve entered this opera with the best intentions, which does give us some poetic license. For me, it was a process of discovering how to take something that might take up a whole chapter in the novel and translate it into a single image on stage.

Audiences in San Francisco will surely be calling this a "Chinese" opera, but it resembles nothing that you’d see on stage in China. Do you think audiences there would find it “Chinese” enough? Was your goal as creators to emphasize international storytelling with a Chinese story, or to bring a Chinese story to the international stage?

HWANG: As the most "American" of the group, with the thinnest personal history regarding the original story, my role has been to bring an outsider’s perspective. One distinction I’ve noticed between contemporary Western and traditional Chinese storytelling styles is that the latter tends towards episodic, rather than serial, narrative. In other words, traditional Chinese epics are a bit like early television: episodes can often be viewed by themselves or out of order without too much impact on the larger story. Translating Red Chamber into a Western dramatic mode involved steering the action towards a climactic event.

SHENG: Any great opera has a great story. Tosca and La Traviata have come to China, where people have a totally different culture, and audiences were still touched by the music and the drama. We were making Dream of the Red Chamber for an international audience. Whether the audience is Chinese or Western, a touching story about ill-fated love should appeal to everyone.

LAI: I don't see it in terms of China and the West. I’m a storyteller in the theatre. That’s my job: to tell the story in whatever way resonates most deeply with the audience. As I said, the story already encapsulates the whole Chinese mind and experience. I don’t think it needs any more Chineseness. Even if you bring a whole avant-garde European flavor to it—which I’m definitely not, by the way—the story will still come out Chinese. If we were doing it for a Chinese audience there’s only one big change I would suggest, which is to perform it in Chinese. As far as staging is concerned, I think there’s sufficient visual language in common for what we do to resonate in Beijing as well.

Like all great classics, Red Chamber is filled with elements that are distinctly of their culture, yet universal. Which was harder, translating this work on a linguistic-cultural level, or instilling an ancient story with contemporary relevance?

LAI: I think both are equally challenging. For example, the opera has a wedding scene. In Chinese tradition, wedding ceremonies are much different: the couple gives their offerings to the heavens and the parents, and then they're married. But how do we make this clear to an audience in San Francisco today?

SHENG: David Hwang and I have worked well in this type of adaptation right from our first collaboration, The Silver River. Because I spent the first half of my life in China, I completely understand the way Chinese culture sees the story. David comes from an almost purely Western point of view. So we both have to be happy with what we come up with before we move forward. And with Stan, whose background is mainly in modern drama, we work through yet another perspective.

HWANG: Both the political intrigue and the love triangle are true to the novel and still highly relatable to a contemporary audience. But this love triangle is different from Western romantic conventions, which leads us to the novel’s spiritual framework: the uber-story about the stone and the flower. On some otherworldly plane, the stone has continually watered the flower with morning dew for thousands of years. The flower wants to express her gratitude, so they ask a priest if she and the stone can be incarnated as humans and express earthly love. The priest warns them that it’s a bad idea, but they do it anyway. And this metaphysical element sets up an interesting thematic question: to what extent can true love exist in a corrupt material world? And that, too, is a very contemporary, universal concern.

SHENG: One of the things that our version makes plain—and this point has been almost entirely neglected by Redologists—is that Bao Yu and Dai Yu are the only two characters whose lives were pre-ordained. They don’t realize it right away. Dai Yu doesn’t even live in the same house as Bao Yu until her mother passes away. But still they were destined to find each other as soulmates.

The novel is known for being a one-stop guide to Chinese traditions, with highly detailed descriptions of daily life in the Qing dynasty. What were the most challenging details to put on stage today?

HWANG: Fortunately, most of the physical details fall into Stan's and Tim's departments. What's challenging from a libretto standpoint is that everything in the novel is stated by the characters in such an indirect fashion. For example, no one just comes out and says they love another character. Conveying this refinement of speech, while also making the story clear to a contemporary American audience, took some work on my part. Bright would often give me the note that a passage I'd written was too baldly stated!

SHENG: There’s a moment in the last scene in Act I where the princess, now the Emperor’s favorite concubine, comes home with gifts from the Emperor. She has fans for both Bao Yu and Bao Chai, and they’re obviously a pair. It’s a clear message. Marriage back then was not decided by love. It was all determined by social status, and now you even have the Emperor promising this union. It’s a bombshell for Dai Yu, and the cliff-hanger for the audience at the end of Act I. I didn’t just want to illustrate it in the score with a tam-tam or something like that, because that wouldn’t be elegant enough. But I did add a stage direction: “Dai Yu collapses to her knees.” The rest is Stan’s job.

LAI: This is the kind of thing that any Chinese person would understand immediately, but we had to find a way to make sure Western audiences realized that the Emperor himself is playing matchmaker, decreeing that Bao Yu and Bao Chai should be together. Another example came in the fourth scene in Act II, when Dai Yu burns her poetry while Bao Yu is lamenting that he won’t be able to marry her. So I asked, where is Bao Yu on stage at this point? Tim Yip and I had set that scene somewhere in the garden, but we weren’t specific. So I decided to move Bao Yu to the same point where he had been spying on Dai Yu earlier as she was catching blossoms and burying them. Now we have Bao Yu recalling this scene in his aria at the same time Dai Yu is burning her poetry. This is one of the most famous scenes in the whole novel and an image that resonates very deeply in Chinese culture.