IU Opera Production (16) – Composer P.Q. Phan Before the Performance

The Tale of Lady Thị Kính Production Countdown

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—– Đọc bài tiếng Việt —– 

February 2014 marks the premiere of the opera The Tale of Lady Thị Kính by P.Q. Phan. These days, many people in the production team have already started to roll up their sleeves, and different departments involved at IU Opera are about to be on the brink of their full swing for the production of this opera. P.Q. Phan, on the other hand, has become ‘idle’ in spite of himself, as he has hardly anything to do with the production. Relaxed, he is slowly easing himself into an audience seat where he watches with eagerness and excitement, and probably with a little bit of anxiety, the show of his creation unfolding in front of his eyes. There, totally non-clandestine, Phan talks about his feelings before the performance.

How do you feel now that the production is going on?

Phan: Excited, and worried at the same time. I am excited to finally see the life of my opera on stage, to see my pure imagination metamorphose into two dimensional scores, and eventually become a “tour de force” of three dimensional staging. On the other hand, I am worried about uncontrollable elements and unpredictable concerns about whether the production is “lush” enough, and that it will be produced in a way that I want to see. The production is under going out of my control, neither is it my job to interfere in what the production team is doing. Sometimes people have interpretations that differ from mine that I may or may not like. But then, when the creation process is finished, interpretation naturally takes over as a completely different phase, and I have to accept it that way.

What is your working relationship with the production team?

Phan: Professional. We are friends, and no one crosses the line. We try not to tell each other what to do. They don’t tell me how to compose, I should not tell them how to produce. I trust the production team’s professionalism and artistic vision. I know that they want to bring the best out of the opera and produce it as perfectly as it can be made in their visions.

What is your expectation of them?

Phan: At the very least, I expect each one of them to take the work and realize it with the most professional approach. The four crucial figures in the team are professional and highly-achieved people in their own rights. Conductor David Effron has conducted over a hundred opera productions. To me, he has mastered the art of commanding the orchestra to do its best, and is particularly sensitive and clever in pacing the flow of an opera. As stage director, Vincent Liotta has directed countless productions and has premiered several works. His productions are intelligent, clever, fresh, and full of life. For the stage designer, Erhard Rom’s impressive portfolio tells us all what he can offer. I have not yet the opportunity to know him personally, however, his professionalism is transparent and proven to be successful. Linda Pisano has designed costumes for many important and challenging productions. Her designs result from a great deal of research and understanding. And I have no doubt she will do the same for the production of The Tale of Lady Thị Kính.

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What do you think the director, set and costume designers could do to convey the Vietnamese feeling to the audience?

Phan: This is a very good and difficult question. Firstly, I find that often the outsiders tend to see more clearly and truthfully the characteristics of a culture. And I hope this is the case for the production team. Secondly, on my part, I have always felt that Vietnamese culture and aesthetics are largely based on the concept of simplicity and sincerity. Vietnamese arts and music have never been created with the aim to impress or overpower their audience, but meant to serve very basic needs of daily life and personal quest for entertainment, spiritual enlightenment, ritual activity, intellectual expression, and communal discourse. Every composer wishes to see the most lavish stage production of his/her opera. However, I don’t particularly seek this approach for my opera. I wish to have a heart-felt production, something sincere enough to invite the audience to be a part of it. It would be incredible if the audience feel as if they are a part of the opera instead of merely spectators of a performance.

How much about Vietnamese culture that the audience can learn from this performance or story? And what aspects of Vietnamese culture that you would like the audience to take with them from the performance?

Phan: A lot, depending on how much one submerges himself or herself into the opera. The audience can learn greatly about Vietnamese culture through this opera when having some knowledge of it. There are two approaches one can take to learn from this opera: observe, and compare and contrast. Observation is an incredible way of learning. It requires the audience to take whatever is offered on stage without being judgmental about it.

On the other hand, compare and contrast is a more advanced way of learning. It requires the audience to have prerequisite knowledge plus certain understanding about the concept of comparative study. One can definitely benefit from this opera / story when they already have a deep knowledge of religious study, ethnology and anthropology.

From this opera/story one can easily learn about values pertaining to women in Vietnamese society. The three major female characters of Thị Kính, Thị Mầu, and Vợ Mõ represent selflessness/compassion, free spirit, and wit, respectively. Interestingly enough, one may find that this opera does not promote men, rather it’d seek to highlight women rights.

*****

With those words, PQ Phan surprisingly has little else to say before the premiere of his opera. Excited, and nonetheless fully confident in the production team, he leans back to the audience chair, anxiously waiting for the curtains to roll.

The Vietnamese version of this article has been printed and published online by the Viễn Đông Daily News. Read my online Vietnamese version

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