Scenes from HUTONG: An Opera In Progress
Thursday, March 12 at 8:15pm

Unveiling a New Opera

With the support of OPERA America’s IDEA Program and Dartmouth College, Other Minds and Cinnabar will stage a workshop version of Kui Dong’s Hutong—a comic opera in fifteen parts about the whimsical nature of urban coincidence and the white space between vignettes. Set in the late summer in modern-day Beijing, the libretto, written by Monica Datta and dramaturg Paul Schick, tells the story of a hutong populated by a zany cast of characters including a blind and deaf Norwegian sailor, a guardian Fenghuang (often portrayed as a phoenix, a Fenghuang is a mythological Chinese bird whose rare appearance is said to foreshadow an auspicious event), a bumptious French architect and his team of Chinese cohorts, playful children and their inexplicably growing frog friend, the housekeeper Ayi, as well as a violin-wielding private eye. The production will be conducted by resident Cinnabar Theater Music Director Mary Chun.

What’s a Hutong?

A Hutong is a type of traditional narrow lane winding through various courtyard residences, or siheyuans. Hutongs are found throughout China but most notably in Beijing. The siheyuans were once inhabited by single wealthy families, but after the Cultural Revolution they were repurposed into communal living spaces that multiple families would occupy. These compounds are often so densely populated that much of day-to-day life spills out into the surrounding hutongs. Families cook meals, vendors sell their wares, old men play chess, children play, and people pass through on their way to work. It was in such an environment that composer Kui Dong spent the first seven years of her life in Beijing—a time that she looks back on with fond nostalgia. This is also where her opera Hutong, takes place.

Who is Kui Dong?

Described by newspapers and magazines such as Washington Post, Gramophone International UK, San Francisco Examiner, Charleston Post and Courier, and The Boston Intelligencer as “exquisitely…ceaselessly compelling”, [possessing] “21st-century sensibilities”, “exceptional beauty and imagination”, “a hybrid sonic labyrinth”, and “beautiful, haunting and thought-provoking,” Kui Dong’s music has been performed and commissioned by numerous ensembles and received honors and prizes from a wide spectrum of prestigious institutions, including Central Ballet Group of China, The National Centre for the Performing Arts of  China, Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television Broadcasting Company, Japan’s Public Interest Incorporated Foundation and Fukuyama Arts Foundation, Spain’s Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, UK’s Arditti Quartet, Austria’s Ars Electronica, The Tanglewood Music Center, USA Commissioning Award, The Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation and Library of Congress, the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University, Meet the Composer, ISCM, and ASCAP etc.
Her music can be found on two releases from Other Minds Records, in addition to New World Records and Sono Luminous. Her first novel will be published by Knowledge Press and the Encyclopedia of China Publishing House in 2020.
Kui Dong is a professor of Music and current Music Department Chair at Dartmouth College.

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