Opera Scotland

Night at the Chinese Opera

Music
Judith Weir (born Cambridge, 11 May 1954)

Text
The composer.

Source
Drama The Orphan of the Chao Family by Chi Chun-Hsiang (13th century).

Premieres
First performance: Cheltenham (Everyman Theatre), 8 July 1987.
First UK performance: As above.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 11 April 2008.
Scottish Opera première: As above.

Background
A Night at the Chinese Opera was Weir’s first full-length opera, and its first production, by Kent Opera, was immediately recognised as revealing a new voice with a particular sense of individuality and character.

Main Characters
Nightwatchman (tenor)
Military Governor (counter-tenor)
Chao Sun, an explorer and mapmaker (baritone)
Little Moon, wife of Chao Sun (soprano)
Chao Lin, their son (baritone)
Mrs Chin, housekeeper (mezzo-soprano)
Old P’eng, a scholar (tenor)
Three Actors (mezzo-soprano, soprano & tenor)
Marco Polo (tenor)

Plot Summary
The opera shows a fascinating interweaving of two plots. In the first act the conquest of China by the Mongols is shown, in not entirely tragic terms. Chao Lin’s father takes to the hills, never to be seen again, his mother dies, and he is left an orphan in infancy. He grows up to become a successful engineer, designing canals. The second act shows a performance of elements of the drama of The Orphan of the Chao Family, which is watched by Chao Lin, who sees similarities with his own story in the play about a tyrant’s attempt to destroy an orphan. The third act is introduced by Marco Polo giving a description of the new canals in a parody Italianate aria. The two plots come together showing the parallels between the two stories. The play ends happily, with the tyrant defeated, while in real life Chao Lin’s revolt against the Mongols is defeated and he is executed.

RECORDINGS

NMC (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1999

Conductor: Andrew Parrott
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Gwion Thomas (Chao Lin), Frances McCafferty (Mrs Chin & Crone), Adrian Thompson (Old P’eng), Michael Chance (Governor), Timothy Robinson (Watchman & Marco Polo), Karl Daymond (Tenor Actor & Explorer), Adey Grummet (Little Moon & Soprano Actor), Frances Lynch (Mezzo Actor).

Judith Weir’s operatic masterpiece comes up fresh as paint in this excellent recording. The cast deliver the text with immaculate clarity, and the second act play is an uproarious contrast to the serious stuff before and after. This really is delightful.

The Cast

Chao Lin
 as a young man
Chao Lin (boy)
 their son, as a boy
Chao Sun
 explorer and mapmaker
Fireman
 
First Actor
 
Little Moon
 wife of Chao Sun
Marco Polo
 
Military Governor
 
Mongolian Soldier
 
Mrs Chin
 housekeeper
Nightwatchman
 
Old Crone
 
Old Mountain Dweller
 
Old P'eng
 scholar
Second Actor
 
Third Actor
 

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