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Cross-Pollinated Opera 

Wednesday, Jan 9 2008
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Westerners are familiar with the pageantry, melodrama, and glass-shattering sopranos that mark the magnum opuses of Verdi or Puccini. Yet the pantomime, combat acrobatics, and warbly, percussion-backed arias of the Peking primadonna seem a world apart from the opera most of us know. But Western and Beijing-style opera have more than a few things in common; for one, the drama is usually more symbolic and gestural than literal, and major leitmotifs like star-crossed lovers and beefing between social classes tend to dominate the plots. A marriage between the two styles might be a bit tricky, but not impossible. Witness Farewell, My Concubine, the newly scored opera by famed Chinese composer, Xiao Bai. The story itself comes from traditional Chinese opera, but it took Xiao Bai 18 years to translate it for Western ears. The new version debuted in China last October to the delight of pince-nez wearers everywhere and now kicks off a six-city U.S. tour. The classic Chinese love story of a warrior and his concubine during the Qin dynasty dates back 2,200 years. (And some might be familiar with the 1993 film version, which intertwined the myth with a story of two childhood friends trained by a tyrannical opera master during the Cultural Revolution.) The opera, sung in Mandarin with English supertitles, features the evocative songs of librettist Wang Jian. Although traditional theatrical forms are quickly waning in significance and tickets sold, the fusion of these two distinct traditions is both novel and stunning. Besides, star-crossed love stories never get old.
Fri., Jan. 11, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 12, 2 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 13, 2 p.m., 2008

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Nirmala Nataraj

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