Monday, April 21, 2014

Chinese Composer Guo Wenjing and his Operas

Guo Wenjing is a contemporary Chinese composer. Unlike many Chinese composers who have studied and lived in other countries, he has only studied in Beijing. He has lived and worked in his home country for nearly his entire life with the exception of a short period of time living in New York. However, over the years he has had many works commissioned around the world and left a shining footprint on the international stage. He and his music have appeared at the Beijing Music Festival, Edinburgh Festival, Hong Kong Arts Festival, Holland Music Festival, New York Lincoln Center Festival, Paris Autumn Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, Almeida Theatre (London), Frankfurt Opera (Germany), Konzerthaus Berlin (Germany), Kennedy Center (Washington), as well as Turin, Warsaw, etc. In addition, he is contracted by CASA RICORDI-BMG and the first composer to be contracted by People’s Music Publishing House. His music has been given high praise both at home and abroad by The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, People’s Music, etc.1
Guo Wenjing’s music is filled with the spirit of humanism and has many oriental features.
His chamber opera Wolf Cub Village (1994) was created based on Luxun’s Chinese literary work Diary of a Madman. This opera’s libretto, written in Chinese, exaggerated the features of Mandarin pronunciation. This exaggerated pronunciation expresses the bleak mood and recalcitrant spirit of the opera quite vividly, strongly, and impressively. Le Monde compared his “masterpiece of madness” to Berg’s Wozzeck and Shostakovich’s The Nose.2
The opera, Night Banquet, based on the story written by Zou Jingzhi, a Chinese poet. The author was inspired by Night Revels of Han Xizai, a court figure painting of the Southern Tang Dynasty. In the opera, Guo Wenjing has combined features of Italian opera and characteristics of ancient Chinese humanities perfectly. It has been performed in China, Europe, Russia, and the United States.
In the opera, Feng Yi Ting, Guo Wenjing added several Chinese traditional instruments and the elements from Jing opera and Chuan opera into the western orchestra and opera format. The Charleston Post and Courier reviewed that “Feng Yi Ting plays like a traditional Chinese theater piece. On one level, that is, because on another very interesting level, it offers a deeper, poignant perspective on tradition vs. transition, on cross-pollination of cultures, on the age of globalization itself.”3 In the article “All the World On a Stage In America” by The New York Times, the opera was described as using
“both Chinese and Western approaches to timbre, melody and hormone, oscillating between the styles and combining them with dazzling fluidity. ...”4
His other opera works, Poet Li Bai, Mu Guiying, and Hua Mulan, also use Mandarin librettos and focus on exploring the possibility and potential of combining Chinese art and Western opera.

1 Chinaculture, Guo Wenjing.
2 Chinaculture, Guo Wenjing.
3 The Post And Courier, Review: ‘Feng Yi Ting’ a wonder of culture, sound and story.

4 The New York Times, All the World On a Stage In America.

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