The Legend of Patriot
World premiere in August 2013
By Shaanxi Song & Dance Troupe Co Ltd
Composer: Hao Weiya
Libretto: Dang Xiaohuang
Conductor: Feng Xuezhong
Chief director: Chen Wei
A glorious historical tale about loyalty and endurance which goes back thousands of years, the story of Su Wu Tending Sheep has been adapted many times in various formats in China. The opera The Legend of Patriot is a great interpretation of the personal life of Su Wu (140-60 BC), with the Western operatic form combining with the traditional Chinese keynote tone to create a solemn and stirring epic.
A diplomat and statesman during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), Su visits Xiongnu, a powerful nomadic tribe, on a mission to end a war which has lasted for hundreds of years. There, he is unfortunately involved in a political intrigue but refuses the surrender demand of the Xiongnu chief. Held captive in a freezing cellar, he eats snow and felt to survive. Then, exiled and tending sheep on the shores of Lake Baikal for 19 years, he holds his mission close and stays loyal to his homeland. Su eventually sets out on the journey home, leaving Suorenna, who gives him unlimited love, and their son, with his standard that the banners and flags have fallen off.
The music of this opera successfully combines Chinese national tunes with Western styles, and profound musical languages with enchanting melodies, which help to depict these vivid characters.
Firstly, when Su is held captive in the freezing cellar during the second act, he sings the aria Thirst is like a Cutting Knife, about the fear of death and the desire to survive. It requires highly technical singing skills to perform the consecutive triplets of F, G and A notes, highlighting the quality of the tenors. The astonishing artistic and emotional tensions immediately bring the hero, who is in critical condition, back to life.
Seeing her tortured lover, Suorenna cries out the recitative Unstoppable Tears to express her deep love for Su Wu. The piece begins with four question phrases, and continues with a fluent A-flat major melody that ends on a high C sharp and B5. This not only demands great singing skills but also a mastery of musical fluidity.
The traitorous general of the Han Dynasty, Li Ling, serves as a foil to the hero. Performed by a baritone, Li’s plot reaches its climax during the third act, when he perishes. The skillfully employed diaphonies between actor, orchestra and the different parts construct a lively depiction of this questionable figure, as well as his desperation and struggles. In addition, his acappella aria with a sword dance adds to the national style of this play.
As well as intricate set designs, the Shaanxi Opera pieces, sounds of erhu and xun (one of China's oldest instruments) and nomadic folk songs also help transport the audience back to the ancient Chang’an city (today’s Xi’an, capital city of Shaanxi) and Lake Baikal.