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Linda Cajigas
Jacobs School of Music

Alain Barker
Jacobs School of Music

Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011

IU Jacobs School's Summer Music series presents workshop performances of new opera by P.Q. Phan

July 22, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music's Summer Music series, a highlight of the IU Summer Festival of the Arts, will present two free workshop performances of a new opera by Jacobs faculty composer P.Q. Phan. The Tale of Lady Thi Kinh will be presented July 29 and 30 at 8 p.m. in Auer Hall.

Both performances are free and open to the public.

The Tale of Lady Thi Kinh will be stage-directed by Jacobs professor Vincent Liotta and conducted by doctoral student Brian Onderdonk with Jacobs faculty member William Jon Gray serving as chorus master.

Phan, Jacobs associate professor of composition, translated and reconstructed the libretto for this two-act opera from Quan Am Thi Kinh (Our Benevolent Buddha Thi Kinh), a traditional Vietnamese work that combines both music and drama.

"Under the original title, the story has a stronger religious focus," Phan said. "However, I want to tell this story from a different perspective -- a humanistic perspective. The tale revolves more on the meaningful life of Thi Kinh, who lives and sacrifices her life for a better society. The tale is a voice of human rights -- women's rights -- thus the title, The Tale of Lady Thi Kinh, is more appropriate."

Liotta said these performances provide a unique opportunity to see the process of creating a new opera. The workshop helps the composer explore and discover the best ways of adapting Asian theatre to the idiom of Western opera.

"The work of the singers and the basic staging are the first steps to bringing the work to successful fruition," Liotta said. "Anyone who is interested in experiencing the adventure of seeing a work go from inception to production will be interested in seeing this first step on that path."

Phan said he had two main reasons for reconstructing the libretto: to include the chorus in the opera and to allow a more dramatic and assertive personality in accordance with Western philosophy.

"Vietnamese traditional opera is typically run by a troupe of one or two large families put together and mainly performed during non-farming season," Phan said. "This explains why the genre has never called for a large force such as the chorus. For the Western opera tradition, what fun would it be if an opera didn't employ the chorus? I wrote all chorus parts as if the traditional would have one."

Phan added that in Vietnamese communication tradition, a response typically follows a question in an orderly fashion. A small gap of time between the response and the question reflects mutual respect. Therefore, dramatic aspects in the Vietnamese traditional opera rely more on the text and not much on physical action. Subsequently, traditional Vietnamese opera has no conflicting duet or trio.

"But the reconstruction allows all possible conflicts to happen," Phan said. "Now the characters have an opportunity to cut off each other's conversation, to voice their conflicting thoughts within an ensemble and to have more assertive interaction."

This project was partially supported by Indiana University's New Frontiers in the Arts & Humanities Program, funded by the Office of the President and administered by the Vice President for Research and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.