by Rodney Punt
|Dr. Sun Yat-sen Joseph Dennis and Corinne Winters|
Photos by Ken Howard in Santa Fe Opera premiere
Lightning struck through the arid skies of New Mexico at the exact downbeat of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a new opera by composer Huang Ruo and librettist Candace Mui-ngam Chong, which received its American premiere last Saturday at the Santa Fe Opera. Maybe that heavenly statement was trying to tell us something about this work. Or about what has happened in China over the past century.
In subject and impact, the story of the man who liberated China from feudalism a century ago could well serve as a prequel to John Adams’ Nixon in China. Both works deal with propelling the historically hermetic country into the modern world. What sets them apart is the new work has a sensibility that is the product of two ethnic Chinese creators and is sung in the Chinese languages of Mandarin and Cantonese.
The ephemeral Sun Yat-sen may have faded from memory in the English-speaking world, but he remains iconic to his own people. His role has been compared to that of George Washington, but a better choice might be pamphleteer Thomas Paine. Neither a battlefield general nor a populist firebrand, Sun was a bookish medical doctor who gathered words to inspire people while others built armies to conquer them. Working mainly in exile, often in the United States, his return as provisional president of the new Republic of China was short-lived. Yet Chinese of all political persuasions still claim him as the father of modern China.
For full review, see San Francisco Classical Voice.