The Tale of Lady Thị Kính Production Countdown

Horizontal poster of Thị Kính – publicity material of the Jacobs School of Music (Photo: IU Opera).

—– Đọc bài tiếng Việt —– 

It is official: Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theater will present six operas and three ballets for the year 2013-2014. Slot number 4 in the series of six operas goes to The Tale of Lady Thị Kính, an opera with music and libretto by P.Q. Phan, the latter written and reconstructed based on an ancient Vietnamese folk story. The premiere of The Tale of Lady Thị Kính is set for February 7, 8, 14, and 15 of 2014 at IU Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana.

It is up: The poster of Lady Thị Kính.

Why are these all a big deal?


Well, first of all, the poster is so huge it demands attention. At six feet wide and thirteen feet long, it features the supposedly Thị Kính in her traditional costume, a pair of scissors in her hand ready to cut off her long hair. This is an act full of symbolism in Vietnamese culture signifying a loss or change in identity, and an essential detail in the story itself that most Vietnamese are familiar with.

Poster for The Tale of Lady Thị Kính inside the Musical Arts Center.

Size apart, the presence of a poster for an opera such as The Tale of Lady Thị Kính, or for that matter any opera at all, indicates significance in other aspects less visible but all the more taxing. For the composer, a finished opera is an incredible accomplishment that only counting the sweat and brain power put into the work itself does not do justice to an enormous work of hours of music and more than a thousand pages of musical notes. This is one explanation for the underlying number of operas in existence.

While the number of composers to the present time could reach the million, those who have chosen to write operas and whose works are performed at some point during their lifetime, fall in the thousand. The magnitude of the project coupled with the cost of having it staged contribute to the decision factors involving the writing of an opera. In the current standard repertoire, after more than 400 years of western opera history starting approximately in 1600, those opera composers of note, dead and alive, whose works are still performed today stand at 40 to 60 comprising a body of 100 to 150 works. These numbers are simply meant to say that finishing an opera, whether a chamber or a grand one, and having it performed on stage is such an honor to a composer, especially more so if it is produced on a large stage like one at IU Opera Theater.

Posters inside the Musical Arts Center.

Those first’s about The Tale of Lady Thị Kính

Starting in Italy, opera is primarily sung in Italian. Over time, the genre spreads its dominion, and German, French and English are most commonly added to the list of opera languages. Of the top fifty operas most often performed all over the world every year, the Italian ones are still very popular, especially in the collegiate environment. Needless to say, opera goers are very familiar with Italian titles and names. This time at IU Opera Theater, they will have a nice surprise.

The Tale of Lady Thị Kính by PQ Phan is an opera based on a Vietnamese story and therefore all the characters’ names are in Vietnamese. This is the first time American opera audience are exposed to Vietnamese language. Familiarity starts first with the title that bears the protagonist’s name – Thị Kính, a Vietnamese name the way it is supposed to be, with diacritics. As the story progresses, the audience will learn to laugh with Thị Mầu, to be angry at Thiện Sĩ, Sùng Ông, Sùng Bà, and to admire Vợ Mõ’s wit. On top of that, several songs are kept in Vietnamese to add the original flavor to the production. Especially fascinating is the multi-layer singing of Nam Mô A Di Đà Phật – sometimes chanting-like, sometimes Hallelujah-equivalent, sometimes celebratory, that reflects the religious, philosophical, and vernacular aspects in the life of Vietnamese people, mirrored through the lofty life of Thị Kính.

Posters inside the Musical Arts Center.

There has not been a grand opera about Vietnamese culture before in American music history. The Tale of Lady Thị Kính by PQ Phan is the first one. Based on a thousand year-old Vietnamese folk story, The Tale of Lady Thị Kính is written in Western-styled music, for American audience. For a unique rendition of a culture so little known in America, this first tale about Vietnamese culture deserves all the publicity it can get. Not to mention that as a two-act, ten-scene opera, The Tale of Lady Thị Kính uses a big force orchestra of 40-60, a large cast of 14 and more, a chorus of more than 30, with costume and set designed and stage directed by highly-regarded professionals, then produced on first-class stage of IU Opera Theater – one of the best in the world. As a whole, they are a feast for the ears and the eyes, as well as for the mind and the soul.


In the Hall of the Musical Arts Center where IU Opera Theater locates, the opera and ballet posters of the season have already been up. The Tale of Lady Thị Kính is among them. What is so catching about the Thị Kính poster is that the opera is a world premiere, with an unfamiliar Vietnamese name in the title, featuring Thị Kính in the Vietnamese traditional costume – all together an exciting sight for viewers passing by. In a few weeks, the posters will be hung outside the theater as well, on the poles along the street leading up to the theater. That is a view very much worth looking forward to as it represents one of the highlights of Bloomington’s musical and animated night life.

Personally, PQ Phan considers the event an honor for himself, a Vietnamese decent, for Vietnam at large and for the Vietnamese American community in the US in particular that he is one representative.

Vertical poster of Thị Kính – publicity material of the Jacobs School of Music (Photo: IU Opera).

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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