BONESETTER’S DAUGHTER – New Opera Stands Alone

San Francisco Opera receives $40 million gift
from John and Cynthia Gunn

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Last Saturday night at the War Memorial Opera House, following a two hour and forty minute multi-zoned pursuit, THE BONESETTER’S DAUGHTER was cited for slamming the world of opera into a brand new era. With music of the spheres by STEWART WALLACE and a multi-faceted libretto by author AMY TAN (extracted from her earthbound novel) – the project was beamed beyond conventional borders and embraced into the orbit of an unreachable star. At the controls – San Francisco Opera’s starry-eyed visionary and General Director, David Gockley.

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AMY TAN, DAVID GOCKLEY, STEWART WALLACE

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CHEN SHI-ZHENG (Director), HAN FENG (Costumer), STEVEN SLOANE (Conductor)

Aboard this enterprise – conductor Steven Sloane and director Chen Shi-Zheng. Each faced the other-worldly task of commanding and uncommon group of instrumentalists and vocalists, acrobats and multi-media projections, while making plausible an understood dialogue between the living with the long-since transformed, all of whom traverse between the obviously visible (or not) plains of the present, past, and future. The perfect milieu, of course, is the operatic stage. The physical and spiritual worlds were made manifest by set designer Walt Spangler, whose previous collaborations with Chen Shi-Zheng include The Coronation of Poppea and La Traviata. The inspired fashions of costume designer Han Feng adorned realms and classes ranging from the pitiful and pedestrian to circus-type glamour and then way-out into celestial couture. The gowns of “Precious Auntie” belong on a heavenly runway. But in this particular theatrical cause comes the brightest of angels, the philanthropic variety – precious duo, John A. Gunn and Cynthia Fry Gunn.

Prior to the performance, the president of the board of directors of San Francisco Opera, George Hume, came center stage to acknowledge the gift of forty million dollars by the Gunns. “They are passionately committed to opera,” he says, “and are actively involved in the leadership of the Company.” In 2006, Jeannik Littlefield made a gift of thirty-five million dollars. The Gunn’s have stepped forward with an endowment that makes it possible for San Francisco Opera to be an international leader among opera companies in the 21st century. They are among the Company’s most generous supporters of new works and, specifically, those who sponsored The Bonesetter’s Daughter.

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ZHENG CAO (Ruth Young Kamen), NING LIANG (LuLing Liu Young), QIAN YI (Precious Auntie). Photos, Terrence McCarthy

Entering this awesome landscape are its principal stars – Zheng Cao (as Ruth Young Kamen), Ning Liang (as LuLing Liu Young), and Qian Yi (as Precious Auntie). They are a force to behold. Each worked extensively with composer Stewart Wallace to create a vocal line that exemplifies their separate characters, harmonizes distinct spirituality, and exalts the contrasting tonalities of Western/European traditions and those of Chinese opera. Mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao is familiar to San Francisco audiences in her role as “Suzuki” during the past two seasons of MADAMA BUTTERFLY. Her voice is rich and powerful; gloriously sweet and passionate as “Ruth” and then dramatically deep and determined when taking on the persona of her mother’s past. Chinese mezzo-soprano Ning Liang brings her extensive experience of Mozart, Strauss, and Mahler to the role of “LuLing” (mother of Ruth). Her character is straightforward and insistent, the vocal colors ranging from stern to frightened and vulnerable. The lovely Qian Yi will inspire many a standard opera fan toward the ancient traditions of Chinese theatre. She appeared in the 2007 film, Dark Matter, directed by Chen Shi-Zheng and in Kevin Choi’s The Years Flow Like Water – a contender at the 2008 Asian American International Film Festival. As the intruding specter, “Precious Auntie”, Qian Yi is indeed the spirit of The Bonesetter’s Daughter. The high and lilting tones of her voice are as fascinating as is the realization of her image. Ms. Yi’s porcelain-like countenance, windswept hair, angel-bride wardrobe, and comfortableness in the air (under the guidance of aerial choreographer Ruthy Inchausgtegui) provide an easy bridge of empathy, understanding and association in the loving realms of ancestral honor, patron saints, guardian angels, and personal muse.

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HAO JIANG TIAN (Chang the Coffinmaker). Photo, Terrence McCarthy

As “Chang the Coffinmaker”, bass Hao Jiang Tian is a triple threat of conniving, seductive, and cruel. He has twenty-six roles on his resumé from the Metropolitan Opera and on the international scene has appeared as “Sparafucile” and “Méphistophélès. Read his biographical memoir, ALONG THE ROARING RIVER: My Wild Ride from Mao to the Met. Memorable characterizations were also provided by JAMES MADDALENA “Art Kamen” and bass-baritone VALERY PORTNOV as “Marty Kamen”. Mr. Portnov is featured on the film soundtrack CD of Little Odessa.

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ZUO JICHENG (Suona Player), WU TONG (Priest, Suona Player), LI ZHONGHUA (Percussionist). Photo by Terrence McCarthy

To order tickets on-line:
SATURDAY, September 20th, at 2:00 pm
SUNDAY, September 28th, at 2:00 pm
TUESDAY, September 30th, at 7:30 pm
FRIDAY, October 3rd, at 8:00 pm

Order these books and recordings on-line:
THE JOY LUCK CLUB – By Amy Tan. Paperback edition, 288 pages.
THE KITCHEN GOD’S WIFE – By Amy Tan. Paperback edition, 416 pages.
SAVING FISH FROM DROWNING – By Amy Tan. Paperback edition, 528 pages.
THE BONESETTER’S DAUGHTER – By Amy Tan. Paperback edition, 400 pages.
CD – OF MICE AND MEN. Opera by Carlisle Floyd, featuring James Maddalena as “Slim”. Patrick Summers conducts the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra & Chorus.
CD – LITTLE ODESSA – beautiful film soundtrack; features bass-baritone Valery Portnov.

Visit Seán on YouTube
Lorena Feijóo – A Look at “Giselle” with Seán Martinfield
SAMSON & DELILAH – Meet Seán Martinfield

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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