New opera: What the Horse Eats

—– Đọc bài tiếng Việt —–

What the Horse Eats
A one-Act-five-Scenes chamber opera
Music by P.Q. Phan 
Libretto by P.Q. Phan & Anvi Hoàng 

Scenario 
Time: 1945
Place: A village in northern Vietnam 

What the Horse Eats is based on a true story of colonialism in Vietnam when Japan and France occupied the country. War, famine, colonialism forced people to choose between life and death, between honor and parental love. Two million people, out of the then-population of eighteen, died of starvation. A horse-tender, worried about the welfare of his family especially his new baby, accepts to work unpaid for a Japanese Captain to care for his beloved White Horse, all the while carrying out a risky calculation. A wife struggles with motherly and spousal love and duty as she strives to digest roots. Holding their head high in the name of honor the best they could. The couple eventually submits to the shameful and devastating reality of thievery to save their newborn child: to steal grains from the horse’s food. The Japanese Captain, bound to an honor code, imposes death upon the horse-tender for stealing.

Genesis 
Composer P.Q. Phan recalls the ‘horse story’ above from his childhood. “My father told me this story many times with the sole purpose of teaching me not to steal. It’s been with me for fifty years. I now retell it as a tale of cruelty and destruction of life caused by colonization hoping we learn to prevent its atrocity in whatever form it takes in the modern time.” In light of the new interpretation, What the Horse Eats aims to highlight the dilemmas we human beings constantly face: justice and compassion. The story reminds us of the need to go beyond our bound to feel for others.

Libretto style and structure
In our diverse society, it is necessary to have a more diverse operatic repertoire, updated cultural understanding, and adequate representation. As ones who absorb more than two cultures in their  veins, team husband-and-wife P.Q. Phan and Anvi Hoàng took upon themselves the responsibility of creating the libretto for What the Horse Eats, in English. On one level, they  have crafted the final product to portray the characters in their proper social and political manners of their time. On another level, they want to tell the story from different perspectives where one can see the conflicts within each character as they make a difficult decision between life and death, honor and duty and parental love, or justice and compassion. Ultimately, as story telling is an effective communications tool, the creators want to tell a story not only to express the Vietnamese-decent background of their American selves but also to make it relevant to the humane social behavior of our world. 

Musical language
What the Horse Eats explores dimensions of and integrates musical languages of the East and West. Via diverse characters in the story, the music embraces cultural and operatic aspects of Japanese Kabuki, Vietnamese Sa Mạc singing and modern Western opera. What the Horse Eats is also an opportunity for composer P.Q. Phan to examine further more contemporary musical language to reflect the story’s rather recent historical background. Technicality aside, by creating lyrical and expressive lines for the singers, he intends to make the opera accessible and appealing to a wider audience beyond the academic circle.

Musical force
What the Horse Eats is a grand opera in aesthetic but reduced to a chamber opera idiom to raise the possibility of the work’s production. It consists of five scenes and calls for a chamber ensemble of flute, clarinet, one percussion player, piano, and string quartet, and five roles—two of which are replaceable by a chorus when available. This opera will last approximately seventy minutes.

Goals and Meanings
What the Horse Eats is a significant addition and contribution to the lack of diversity in our current opera repertoire in terms of both numbers and topics. With the current trend of ethnically appropriate role casting, What the Horse Eats will create more roles and opportunities for AsianAmerican performers to be in opera.

In addition to its planned productions in the coming years, What the Horse Eats is an invitation to the VietnameseAmerican communities in the United States. By virtue of this relevant and meaningful subject to the community, the authors wish to attract more VietnameseAmericans to the powerful art form of opera. Ideally, they want to share with everyone the profound lessons in human behavior found in What the Horse Eats. 

Premiere
August 8, 2020
Buskirk-Chumley Theater
114 E Kirkwood Ave
Bloomington IN 47408

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