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Weir: A Night At The Chinese Opera
Karl Daymond, Judith Weir, Andrew Parrott
Weir: A Night At The Chinese Opera
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (7) - Disc #2


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CD Details

All Artists: Karl Daymond, Judith Weir, Andrew Parrott, Michael Chance, Frances McCafferty, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Timothy Robinson, Adrian Thompson
Title: Weir: A Night At The Chinese Opera
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Nmc Records
Release Date: 1/23/2001
Album Type: Import
Genre: Classical
Style: Opera & Classical Vocal
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaCD Credits: 2
UPCs: 675754320324, 5023363006026

CD Reviews

A late twentieth century operatic jewel
Julian Grant | London, Beijing, New York | 12/07/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This opera had a brilliantly successful initial run of performances in the UK in 1987, and came to Santa Fe shortly after, where its detached irony, musical economy and theatrical sleight of hand did not seem to go down so well. This CD from a single live concert performance in 2000 will hopefully win more admirers for this singular work. A complex scenario based on the 14th century Chinese play 'The Chao Family Orphan'(the first Chinese play to reach the West, and was later adapted by Voltaire). It tells the story of Chao-Lin who grows up under the Mongolian regime of Khubilai Khan, and finds out that his protector is the slaughterer of his family - what is fascinating is that Judith Weir (fashioning her own libretto) makes the centrepiece of the opera a performance of the original play (banned under the Mongolian regime)- complete with affectionate parodies of westernized Chinese music and a stand up comedy aspect (hence the Marx Brothers allusion in the title) which enlightens the lead character to the mystery of his upbringing.The music has been described as minimalist or post-modern, but its great strength is its clarity and simplicity, that enables the multi-layered events to register clearly. The vocal writing is very assured and individual, with some very catchy folk-like melodic lines, and the word-setting is exemplary - almost every word is audible. The orchestral writing for small orchestra is very striking, lots of memorable primary colours, fabulous woodwind riffs and a very original use of tonality - occasional shades of Messiaen, Britten, Gilbert and Sullivan, Sondheim and Ligeti flit through, but the brew is incredibly original and distinctive. The outer acts contain the musical meat, the 2nd being mainly a play with instrumental accompaniment, with fun parodies of Chinese Opera. Much of the opera is light-hearted and witty, but the subjects it raises, progress versus ecology, the nature of tyranny, the power of theatre under absolutist regimes are essential to any age, and the mixture is at once entertaining and disturbing. Certainly its theatrical assurance runs rings around most other perhaps more prominently lauded recent contemporary operas, and it occupies a middle ground between the inaccessible post avant-garde music theatre cocktail favoured perhaps in Europe, and the podgier sort of secondhand neo-romantic brew that seems to be in vogue in the US at the moment.The performance is fine, the mixture of singers and singer-actors cope well with the whirlwind demands, and the characterization is acute. Orchestrally all goes well too, the odd slip notwithstanding. Recording is very clear with some evidence of audience noise (yes, peals of laughter in a contemporary opera - imagine that!!).Check this out, it deserves to be heard."
A voice teacher and early music fan
George Peabody | Planet Earth | 11/25/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)


A Night at the Chinese Opera was Judith Weir's first full-length work for the stage. Commissioned by the BBC for Kent Opera, it was performed first at the Cheltenham Festival on July 8,1987. The story (somewhat altered) was taken from the 14th century Chinese play 'The Chao Family Orphan' by Chi Chunhsiang; it is about a loyal subject of the emperor falsely accused of treason by a wicked General; he commits suicide and his child is, unbeknownst to both, adopted by the accuser; the child grows up, discovers the truth and exacts revenge.

For this opera Weir could have chosen a name like 'The Orphan Chao', or any number of others that do not include the word 'Chinese'. She immediately sets up a culturally-embedded expectation of strange-making, of things not being what they seem, and seeming to be what they are not.

Chao(one letter short of 'chaos' is the double hero of the conceit. In a three-act structure, the outside acts follow the fortunes of an engineer, Chao, who witnesses a performance of a Chinese Opera (in act 2), that tells the story of another Chao. Inspired by the inner Chao, the outer Chao determines to follow the same course, and ends up being executed.

This is a highly textured work with rich substantial characteristics and a libretto with great harmonious as well as dissonant characteristics. A quote by Peter Cudman,a Scottish reviewer of note states "...the harmonic world at the outset is nearer to Debussy,...looking back to the Javanese gamelan sonorities that so inspired him (Debussy) early his careet, and looking forward to Messiaen specifically his technique of thickening melodic lines to colour their rehetorical flow. Here Weir's textures are sometimes thicker than rough-cut marmalade. Textures shift. Weir explores widely differing, sometimes delicate, and often gorgeous sonorities."

Weir, writing her own libretto,weaves an indissoluble texture of words and notes, and ensures that, inspite of her exuberant instrumentation that the words are always audible. Of course, having a good cast helps, and this play does have an excellent group of singers-actors. Her mixture of straight speech,pitched and rhythmic speech is well put-together and quite understandable.

Much of the 'Chinese Opera' is funny,but it is the humour of the raised eyebrow. Even so the topic is profoundly serious. Tyranny, and how to resist it-the story of the late and lamented 20th century.

I must admit that my appreciation of this production is not at a high level; I really don't think there is a great deal of melodious sections in the music. However, every now and then a lovely melody comes forth. So perhaps further listening will increase my appreciation.

As for the cast, Michael Chance (countertenor) and Michael George(bass) are the only 2 people I have previously encountered. They sing their parts exceptionally well as do the singers: G. Thomas, A. Grummet, F. McCafferty, T.Robinson, F,Lynch. Accompanied skillfully by Scottish Chamber Orchestra all under the capable direction of Andrew Parrott.

So why not five stars from me? It just takes too much work to really enjoy this opera. The story is complicated to begin with AND the music is NOT going to be enjoyable without understanding the tale. It's not simplistic either musically or fictionally. BUT I can enjoy it more with each listening for it is indeed quality writing and certainly performance wise."