Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

San Francisco Opera’s World Premiere of Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER Begin Previews Tonight

Bright Sheng; David Henry Hwang; Set design by Tim Yip

Bright Sheng; David Henry Hwang (Photo: Lia Chang); Set design by Tim Yip

San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, with a libretto by the composer and David Henry Hwang, in six performances from September 10–29, 2016. Commissioned by San Francisco Opera, the work is a co-production with the Hong Kong Arts Festival and will be performed March 17–18, 2017 at the Grand Theatre in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre as part of its 45th annual festival. Based on one of the quintessential works of world literature, Sheng and Hwang’s opera explores the characters at the heart of Chinese author Cao Xueqin’s 18th century novel and communicates their story as a vivid musical and theatrical experience.

The genesis of the opera began with Pearl Bergad, Executive Director of the Minneapolis-based Chinese Heritage Foundation, who approached San Francisco Opera General Director Emeritus David Gockley in 2013 about producing an opera based onDream of the Red Chamber. Gockley said, “Over twenty years ago in Houston, I worked with Bright Sheng on the creation of a new work and have followed his career ever since. Asking him to create this new opera seemed to me to be the logical and right choice. In conversations with Bright, I asked that Dream of the Red Chamber be composed in a beautifully lyrical style, nostalgic and retain aspects of a traditional Chinese soundscape. I’m very pleased to say that he has indeed succeeded in these efforts.” From the beginning, this operatic setting of the timeless Chinese love story was conceived as having an English libretto so it would be readily accessible to non-Chinese speaking audiences. All San Francisco Opera performances of Dream of the Red Chamber will feature both English and Chinese supertitles.

A production “dream team” was assembled to bring Sheng and Hwang’s visionary work to life. Known throughout Asia for creating some of the most memorable works for the contemporary stage and also for creating bold new genres and staging innovations, playwright and director Stan Lai makes his San Francisco Opera debut with this two-act opera. Tim Yip, the Academy-Award winning designer of Crouching Tiger-Hidden Dragon, designed the sets and costumes for the work. George Manahan will conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Ian Robertson is the Chorus Director.

Adapted from the rich and vast source 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: one his spiritual soulmate, Dai Yu, and the other a worldly beauty named Bao Chai. Trouble ensues when the Emperor rejects Princess Jia as his favored concubine, a move that threatens the family’s fortune and Bao Yu’s union with Dai Yu. Framed by dreamlike prologue and epilogue sequences featuring The Monk, a mysterious figure who may be the author himself, Dream of the Red Chamber relates the poetry and sadness of the original Chinese tale as a lush and lyrical 21st century opera. Director Stan Lai says, “I aim to blend Chinese aesthetics and Asian philosophies within a contemporary sensibility, to create a play between visual lushness and sparseness befitting the score and the novel’s themes of impermanence.”

Dream of the Red Chamber features a cast of established and rising Asian singers. Chinese tenor Yijie Shi and South Korean soprano Pureum Jo make their San Francisco Opera debuts as Bao Yu and Dai Yu, the young lovers who are also incarnations of two divine entities, the Stone and Crimson-Pearl Flower, descended to the earthly realm to experience love. Making her Company debut, South Korean mezzo-soprano Hyona Kimis Lady Wang, the elder who schemes to marry Bao Yu to Bao Chai, an heiress of the wealthy Xue Clan. Japanese-American mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts, who impressed San Francisco Opera audiences this summer in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen, is the beautiful Bao Chai. Making her United States and Company debuts, Chinese contraltoQiulin Zhang is Granny Jia, the clan elder who attempts to secure a happy future for Bao Yu and Dai Yu. Taiwanese soprano and Merola Opera Program alumna Karen Chia-ling Ho is the fallen concubine Princess Jia and Chinese-American mezzo-soprano and former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Yanyu Guo is Aunt Xue. Japanese-American Bay Area actor Randall Nakano will make his San Francisco Opera debut in the non-singing role of The Monk.

In anticipation of the work’s world premiere, San Francisco Opera assembled a committee of community leaders to develop fundraising and awareness-building initiatives both nationally and abroad in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Led by San Francisco Opera Board of Directors member Doreen Woo Ho and War Memorial Trustee Gorretti Lo Lui, this committee—which also includes celebrated novelist Amy Tan, Yahoo! co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco director Jay Xu and acclaimed San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Yuan Yuan Tan—has secured funding and united business leaders, civic leaders, educators and philanthropists across Asia and North America in support of this major new opera. To celebrate the opening of Dream of the Red Chamber, the committee will host a pre-performance cocktail hour in the War Memorial Opera House, a dinner next door in the Green Room of the Veterans Building and a post-performance reception with the cast and creators. The Honorary Co-Chairs for these sold-out events are San Francisco Mayor, The Honorable Edwin M. Lee and his wife Anita Lee.

Dream of the Red Chamber is the eighth world premiere at San Francisco Opera in the last ten seasons and the Company’s fourteenth world premiere overall. Recent world premieres include Marco Tutino and Fabio Ceresa’s Two Women (2015), Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy’s Dolores Claiborne (2013), Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2013), Nolan Gasser and Carey Harrison’s The Secret Garden (2013), Christopher Theofanidis and Donna Di Novelli’s Heart of a Solder (2011), Stewart Wallace and Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2008) and Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton’s Appomattox (2007).                                 

Sung in English with English and Chinese supertitles, the six performances of Dream of the Red Chamber are scheduled for September 10 (7:30 p.m.), September 13 (7:30 p.m.), September 18 (2:00 p.m.), September 23 (7:30 p.m.), September 27 (7:30 p.m.), September 29 (7:30 p.m.), 2016. San Francisco Opera’s 2016–17 Season opens on September 9 with Giordano’s Andrea Chénier.


            Single tickets for Dream of the Red Chamber are priced from $26 to $417 (subject to change) and may be purchased at or through the San Francisco Opera Box Office at 301 Van Ness Avenue or by phone at (415) 864-3330. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; tickets are $10 each, cash only.

The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street. Patrons are encouraged to use public transportation to attend San Francisco Opera performances. The War Memorial Opera House is within walking distance of the Civic Center BART station and near numerous bus lines, including 5, 21, 47, 49 and the F Market Street. For more public transportation information, visit and

            Casting, programs, schedules and ticket prices are subject to change. For further information about Dream of the Red Chamber and San Francisco Opera’s 2016-17 Season, please visit



September 10 (7:30 p.m.), 13● (7:30 p.m.), 18● (2 p.m.), 23 (7:30 p.m.), 27 (7:30 p.m.), 29●(7:30 pm), 2016

Libretto by David Henry Hwang* and Bright Sheng*
Based on the book by Cao Xueqin

Commissioned by San Francisco Opera
Co-Production with the Hong Kong Arts Festival

Approximate running time: 3 hours including one intermission
Sung in English with English and Chinese supertitles

Bao Yu                                                  Yijie Shi*
Dai Yu                                                   Pureum Jo*
Lady Wang                                           Hyona Kim*    
Bao Chai                                              Irene Roberts 
Princess Jia                                         Karen Chia-ling Ho*
Granny Jia                                           Qiulin Zhang*
Aunt Xue                                              Yanyu Guo
The Monk                                             Randall Nakano*
Eunuchs / Stone                                  Alex Boyer, Pene Pati†, Edward Nelson
Handmaidens / Flower                      Toni Marie PalmertreeAmina EdrisZanda Švēde

Production Team:
Conductor                                            George Manahan
Director                                                 Stan Lai*
Production Designer                          Tim Yip*
Lighting Designer
                               Gary Marder
Chorus Director                                   Ian Robertson
Choreographer                                   Fang-Yi Sheu*

San Francisco Opera Orchestra, San Francisco Opera Chorus
and San Francisco Opera Dance Corps

* San Francisco Opera debut                      † Current Adler Fellow                  ● OperaVision Performance

The commission of Dream of the Red Chamber was initiated and funded by the Chinese Heritage Foundation Friends of Minnesota, with leadership support from the Dr. M. F. Tchou Memorial Fund of the Chinese Heritage Foundation, Benjamin Y. H. and Helen C. Liu, and Ruth Stricker and the late Bruce Dayton.

This production is made possible, in part, by Company Sponsors John A. & Cynthia Fry Gunn, the Edmund W. and Jeannik Méquet Littlefield Fund, United Airlines, grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and funding from OPERA America’s Opera Fund. Corporate sponsors also include Tiffany & Co. and U.S. Bank.


San Francisco Opera partners with cultural and educational institutions throughout the Bay Area to present events for audiences to further explore Dream of the Red Chamber. A calendar of ancillary events follows below; for further information

Free Online Course
Learn more about the story behind the opera with Dream of the Red Chamber: Afterlives, a free course and collection of exhibits by the University of Minnesota. For more information, go to

Thursday Nights at the Asian Art Museum: Dream of the Red Chamber Lecture, August 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Stephen Roddy, professor of modern and classical languages at the University of San Francisco, takes us through the storyline of San Francisco Opera’s world premiere commission of Dream of the Red Chamber, based on the classic Qing-dynasty novel. He will be joined by composer Bright Sheng to talk about the inspirations behind the music and provide the inside scoop on how the story evolved into an opera. A preview of excerpts from the opera will be performed at the end of the evening. The lecture is free with museum admission ($5 after 5 p.m.).

Opera Guild, Peninsula Chapter presents: An Afternoon with Bright Sheng, August 21, 2:00 p.m.
San Francisco Opera Dramaturg, Dr. Clifford Cranna, will interview composer Bright Sheng at an elegant private residence in Palo Alto. Sheng will discuss the creation and content of this new opera. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served in the beautiful garden ($50-$150). Reservations are required by August 15. Please visit the event page to get reservation form and address.

Opera Guild, East Bay Chapter presents: An Afternoon with Bright Sheng, August 28, 11:30 a.m.
San Francisco Opera Dramaturg, Dr. Clifford Cranna, will interview composer Bright Sheng at the Sequoyah Country Club (4550 Heafey Road, Oakland). Enjoy lunch and no-host bar prior to hearing Sheng discuss the creation and content of Dream of the Red Chamber ($65; $25 tax-deductible). Reservations are required August 21. Please visit the event page to get reservation form and further details.

San Francisco Opera Guild Insight Panel Discussion, September 1, 6:30 pm
Dream of the Red Chamber cast and creative team members share their insights and experiences during this informal panel discussion at Herbst Theatre (401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco). Free for San Francisco Opera members, subscribers and students with valid ID and $5 for the general public; tickets are available online here and at the door.

San Francisco Opera Guild Opera Previews, September 6-8
San Francisco Opera Guild’s chapters and the San Jose Opera Guild present Dream of the Red Chamber librettist David Henry Hwang and critic and journalist Ken Smith, who will present 90-minute in-depth presentations about Dream of the Red Chamber at the following Bay Area locations:
San Francisco Chapter – September 6, 12pm at Koret Auditorium, New Main Library in San Francisco (Free)
Peninsula Chapter – September 6, 7:30pm at Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto (Admission: $10)
San Jose Opera Guild – September 7, 10am at Addison-Penzak JCC Silicon Valley in Los Gatos (Admission: Free to San Jose Opera Guild and JCC members; $10 general public)
East Bay Chapter – September 7, 8pm at Lafayette Library & Learning Center (Admission: $10)
Marin Chapter – September 8, 7:30pm at The Redwoods in Mill Valley (Admission: $10)

University of San Francisco, September 15, 5:15-6:15 p.m.
The Center for Asia Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco presents San Francisco Opera Dramaturg Clifford (Kip) Cranna, who will interview composer Bright Sheng about the creation of his opera Dream of the Red Chamber and the process of adapting the Chinese novel for the first time as an operatic work for the Western world.  Musical excerpts from the opera will be performed. Free and open to the public. University of San Francisco, Fromm Hall, Xavier Room.

Center Theatre Group celebrates 50 Years Featuring Phylicia Rashad in HEAD OF PASSES, World Premieres by David Henry Hwang and Rajiv Joseph and More in 2017-2018 season

South China Morning Post: David Henry Hwang talks hate, sex, yellow face and faith 

Tony Award®-winning Playwright David Henry Hwang to Succeed William Ivey Long as Chair of the American Theatre Wing 

David Henry Hwang, Leehom Wang, Bryan Stevenson, Elizabeth Kolbert, Sarah Bolton, Eric Carle, Frank Deford, Carrie Hessler-Radelet Receive Honorary Degrees from Williams College

San Francisco Opera to Present World Premiere of Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s ‘Dream of The Red Chamber’, helmed by Stan Lai, Sept. 10 -29 

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Presents 2018 World Premiere of ‘An American Soldier’ by David Henry Hwang and Huang Ruo 

Tony Award winning playwright David Henry Hwang’s Commencement Speech at SUNY Purchase 

Click here for more articles on David Henry Hwang.

Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and

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