Category Archives: China

New Opera Tan Dun’s Tea: Mirror of Soul

Wow… so many people have been saying that Vancouver Opera’s current production of Tea: Mirror of Soul, composed by Tan Dun, is a must see.

The visuals are stunning.  The music is compelling.  The topics of love, family, guilt, loss, death are standard in many operas.  But combined with a unique blend of Chinese music and story that includes references to the Monkey King, and the art of tea ceremony, this opera pushes and challenges boundaries on many levels.  The most striking is its use of water, paper and rock as musical and visual themes.  There are large water bowls on each side of the stage, and musicians hit, slap or drip the water to create a fascinating aural soundscape.  Paper is used as visual forest for scenery, or it is hit with drum sticks to create thunder, or rolled to create thunder.  As well the opera chorus holds sheets of paper and uses it like percussion, complimenting the orchestra.


Nancy Allen Lundy has played the character of Lan in every production of Tea: a Mirror of Soul.

This is the setting for the exquisite singing, that is a blend of traditional classical opera and Chinese opera.  American soprano Nancy Allen Lundy, performs Lan.  She is the only artist to have ever played this role in productions around the world.  She sings like a bel canto bird on some songs, while on others she bends her notes like in Chinese opera style.  It is different for ears accustomed to Western opera – but it is exciting that Vancouver Opera would mount this production.  Find out more about Nancy Allen Lundy from the Opera Blog

It’s also a perfect blend for the cultural diversity of Vancouver.  Much is made of Vancouver’s large Chinese population, as well as the local music scene which features lots of cultural fusion artists such as Silk Road Music, Orchid Ensemble, and even Mozaico Flamenco – which performed a full scale of Cafe de Chinitas this past weekend.

Tan Dun is more well known in North America as the composer of the soundtrack for the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  I loved both the movie and the music which featured cello superstar Yo Yo Ma.  Ten years ago, I witnessed Vancouver Opera concertmaster Mark Ferris perform Tan Dun’s “Crouching Tiger Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra” with the CBC Radio Orchestra-  with featured Chinese erhu virtuoso George Gao  It was amazing.

The opera opens with the main character Seikyu, a former prince now a monk in Kyoto Japan, performing a ritualistic tea ceremony.  He sings of bitterness, and the monks ask him why.  Then then begins to tell a story of ten years past when he was in China, and in love in the Princess Lan.  The action then shifts to China, as the sets seem to magically transform.

But this opera is more than just the music.  There are so many levels of story,

The opera runs again on Thursday May 9th and Saturday May 11th, start time is 7:30pm.  Don’t be late or you will miss opening preamble and musicians walking up the aisles.

This review – is still in process – check back for more!

Watch these videos about Tea: A Mirror of Soul – posted by Vancouver Opera on youtube.

Doxa Film Review – Ai Wei Wie: Never Sorry

DOXA Film Festival – Review of Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry

written by guest contributor Allan Cho

Ai Wei Wei is one of China’s most famous contemporary artists.  He is also known as one of China’s most most fearless dissidents.   His controversial art includes shattering priceless Han Dynasty urns and defacing these urns with paintings of Coca Cola logos on them as a protest to the contradictions of Chinese authoritarianism.

This past Saturday my friend Callan Tay of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival and I saw the fantastic documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry as part of the DOXA Documentary Film Festival.   We loved the film.

Directed by Alison Klayman, this film is an in-depth look into a complex man whose life treads on the margins of contradictions.  As artist whose famous Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing stands as one of the greatest art projects commissioned by the Communist government, Ai Wei Wei also stands as the Birds Nest’s staunchest critics.  Foregoing the possibilities of wealth with his new found fame, Ai instead chooses to use that fame to his advantage, mobilizing countless of his followers to political action.

Using art as a form of communication, Ai Wei Wei has a large cult-like following throughout China who adhere to his politics and art.  With his Twitter account and Sina blog, Ai’s every action is transmitted to his fans within the constraints of China’s firewall of censorship.  What happens when Ai Wei Wei gets followed by police and monitored by the state?   He turns around by recording his opponents every action and turning it into a political statement.  What happens when he is detained and charged for tax evasion?  He blogs about his experiences while his followers rally around him as a staunch reminder of the grassroots democracy movement brewing underground in China.

Presented by the Documentary Media Society, the DOXA film festival has been promoting independent and innovative documentaries to Vancouver audiences since 1998.   Former Canadian ambassador to China and Japan and current fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada Joseph Caron was on hand to give an introduction of the film.  The film did not disappoint at all.

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