Chinese opera, Western style

Just three months after its world premiere in Beijing, Xiao Bai’s opera “Farewell My Concubine” is making its first appearance in the United States.

Opening with performances at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House on Saturday and Sunday, this “first Western-style interpretation of the classic Chinese opera” moves to Pasadena, Washington, D.C., New York City, Houston and Dallas.

The tour also marks the inaugural appearance of China National Opera House, one of China’s premier arts groups, in the United States.

The plot — a love story about the warrior Xiang Yu, and his concubine, Yu Ji — is the same that inspired many works through the centuries, including Chen Kaige’s 1993 film which focused on the lives of Peking Opera performers through China’s recent upheavals, climaxing in the brutal Cultural Revolution. The music is the result of “Xiao Bai laboring for 18 years to re-score a Western version of the story.”

Xiao Bai and librettist Wang Jian have “developed a new Western-style production,” according to the show’s announcement, which is “distinct from traditional Beijing-style opera (incorporating instrumental music, vocal performance, pantomime, dance and acrobatics). This version captures the framework of a classic Italian opera, but is sung entirely in Mandarin with English subtitles.”

Is this first Western-style interpretation of Chinese opera? Probably not. San Francisco’s own “Grand Seducers: Don Giovanni Meets Xi-men Qing” — onstage last year — came before “Concubine.” However, for the music itself, in this Verdi-wannabe sung in Mandarin and using ancient Chinese costumes, this presentation is something new.

If you go

Farewell My Concubine

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $50 to $200

Contact: (415) 392-4400 or www.cityboxoffice.com

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