Six-Member Delegation From Hangzhou Municipal Government Arrives For Gala Reception In Advance Of Friday Premiere
Cultural exchange between China and the United States has picked up steam in recent years, beyond traditional forms such as panda diplomacy, terracotta diplomacy or art diplomacy, as more dance, kung fu, acrobat and opera groups have traveled across the Pacific to expose new audiences to Chinese performing arts.
This week in Boston, a new opera, “Madam White Snake” — the first opera commissioned in Boston in decades — is set to make its premiere. In honor of the event, delegates from Boston’s sister city, Hangzhou (a city Jing Daily has covered extensively) arrived in Boston this week, and will be treated to a gala event tonight at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Tonight’s gala is not the official world premiere — that’s Friday night — but the first full performance of the opera provides a chance to celebrate several extraordinary collaborations. In creating the opera, librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs has fostered partnerships between the Boston arts world and the city’s Chinese community, as well as between Opera Boston and the Beijing Music Festival, in pulling off the first opera commissioned in Boston in decades.
The Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center worked with the “Friends of Madame White Snake” to create classes and seminars — including “Opera 101” — to teach members about Western and Chinese opera over the past year. More than 1,000 school children took part, many at the Josiah Quincy School in Chinatown.
Selina Chow, the board president of the BCNC who focuses heavily on education programs, connected with Cerise Lim Jacobs and Hsiu-Lan Chang, a Brookline resident who as co-chair of Friends of Madame White Snake has worked non-stop to engage the community and raised funds for the three-performance run. Together they built up the community outreach efforts.
Tongiht’s gala was organized by the Friends to raise funds as well as acknowledge all the community involvement. The BCNC received 100 tickets for its members, and the Friends also have donated tickets to other groups including the Perkins School for the Blind and the Massachusetts National Guard.
Carole Charnow, the general director of Opera Boston, said the opera “really has integrated the Chinese experience into the Theater District in a substantial and rich way.”
Elaine Ng, the executive director of the BCNC, said the opera project “is bringing back an element of our history and culture, and making it accessible. This is an opportunity to bring it back for Chinese immigrants, and Americans who don’t have the language. This opens up a whole new audience. It’s a whole different level of cultural exposure.”
The Hangzhou delegation includes Xie Chongming, deputy director of the city’s foreign affairs office, and finance officials Zhang Zhen and Lu Bin. Hangzhou is one of eight official sister cities for Boston. The city, located in Zhejiang Province southwest of Shanghai, is regarded as one of the most scenic and important cultural centers in China.
The opera may be performed at some point in Hangzhou. For now, it is scheduled to open the month-long Beijing Music Festival in October.
Song Tu, the program director for the festival, said by telephone that the Beijing festival’s artistic director, Long Yu, had co-commissioned the work with Opera Boston in part because “he wants Westerners to open their eyes to China, and see how we can connect with the world through the music, through creative, imaginative methods, and not only to represent the more famous traditional repertoire.”
“Madame White Snake” will be performed in Boston on February 26 and 28 and March 2 at the Cutler Majestic Theater (219 Tremont Street).