Honoring AAPI Heritage Month with Opera and Vocal Music

Honoring AAPI Heritage Month with Opera and Vocal Music
Dream of the Red Chamber, Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Wise Music Classical joins the celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by recognizing the substantial enrichment of contemporary opera and vocal music by the AAPI community of composers and librettists in our catalogues. In spotlighting these notable selections, we hope to honor the diversity of culture among Asian American and Pacific Islander stories, voices, and traditions and open the door to further exploration. 


Angel's Bone (2015)
Du Yun
Libretto by Royce Vavrek

Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel’s Bone follows the plight of two fallen angels whose nostalgia for earthly delights finds them far from heaven. They are found battered and bruised by a man and his wife, known only as Mr. and Mrs. X.E., who long for a better life than their modest, middle-class status allows. Nevertheless, Mr. and Mrs. X.E. set out to nurse the wounded angels back to health; they bathe them, wash the dirt from their nails... then lock them in a room, leaving them a claw foot bathtub for a shared bed, and decide to exploit these magical beings for wealth and personal gain. 

Angel's Bone melds chamber music, theatre, pop music, spoken word, opera, cabaret and electronics, exploring the dark effects and motivations behind modern-day slavery and the trafficking industry.

Listen on Spotify

Watch on YouTube

Also by Du Yun:

Zolle (2005)
Sweet Land (2020)

Dream of the Red Chamber (2016)
Bright Sheng
Libretto by Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang

The Dream of the Red Chamber, a masterpiece of Chinese fiction, is a detailed, episodic record of the lives of the members of the Jia Clan, whose good fortune is assured when one of its daughters becomes an imperial concubine, and then declines after her death. Elements of Chinese and Western sensibilities are intricately woven together in Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s adaptation of Cao Xue Qin’s epic 18th-century Qing Dynasty novel. The opera focuses on eight central characters to tell the tale of the illustrious Jia Clan and traces the Jias' fall from the height of their prestige. Often considered as a semi-autobiographical novel, Sheng and Hwang frame the tale with a Prologue and Epilogue led by The Monk, who may be the author himself.

Watch on YouTube

The Song of Majnun (1992)
Bright Sheng
Libretto by Andrew Porter based on Nizami

Nizami's Islamic epic poem Layla and Majnun, (“the Romeo and Juliet of the East”) is an ancient tale that travelled around the eastern hemisphere for centuries. Layla and Qays fell in love when they were young, but their relationship was banned by Layla's father when they grew up. As Qays grows increasingly obsessed with her, his community begins to call him “Majnun," meaning "insane" or "infatuated" in Arabic. Majnun's tragedy is not only his ill-fated and unfulfilled love for Layla, but also the conflict between that love and the societal degradation it causes him to suffer,  ultimately leaving him estranged and alienated from his community. 

Listen on Spotify

Also by Bright Sheng:

The Silver River (1997)
Madame Mao (2003)

Buddha Passion (2018)
Tan Dun
Text by Tan Dun in Chinese and Sanskrit

Based on the Mogao Cave Murals, this large concert work captures the ancient narratives of the Buddha’s teachings and the timeless, universal concepts of love, forgiveness, sacrifice, and compassion. Joining the chorus and orchestra are vocal soloists and male and female indigenous performers. 

Watch on YouTube


Tea: A Mirror of Soul (2002)
Tan Dun
Libretto by Tan Dun and Xu Ying

Based on historical fact, Tea sketches the tale of Seikyo, a prince-turned-monk. By suffering "bitter love," Seikyo transcended a cruel destiny to achieve an austere peace, the meaning of which he teaches through tea rituals. But the full story of Seikyo's "bitter love" involves a princess, shamanistic rituals, fierce struggles over an ancient book of wisdom, and an erotic passion so tainted by jealousy that it ends in death. Combining the lyricism of Italianate opera, lush orchestration, a male "Greek chorus," gamelan-like percussion, and the organic sounds of nature — water, paper, and stones — Tea brings an ancient tale to the 21st century.

Watch on YouTube

Also by Tan Dun:

Marco Polo (1995)
Nine Songs (1989)
Peony Pavilion (1998)
The First Emperor (2006)

Snatched by the Gods (1999)
Param Vir
Libretto by William Radice after Rabindrath Tagore

Maitra, a well-to-do Brahmin from East Bengal, has assembled a group of Pilgrims to journey by boat to a bathing-festival at the mouth of the Ganges. While the boat is being loaded, Moksada, a young widow, suddenly appears and begs to be allowed to join the pilgrimage. She says that her son Rakhal can stay with her sister Annada, who dotes on him. Maitra agrees to let Moksada come and she goes to fetch her things. While she is away, Rakhal is discovered hiding on the boat. The Boatman says that the boat is overloaded, but lets him stay. Moksada returns and unintentionally curses the boy in her irritation. A great storm gathers and Maitra blames Moksada. The passengers throw Rakhal overboard and Maitra’s conscience forces him to follow. This work is often paired with Vir's Broken Strings

Also by Param Vir:

Ion (2000)


I Dream of Sacred... I Am My Dream (2008)
William Barton 
Text by Judith Wright

Listen on Spotify

William Barton is one of Australia’s leading didgeridoo players and composers. Born in Mount Isa, he was taught the instrument by his uncle, an elder of the Waanyi, Lardil and Kalkadunga tribes of western Queensland. Through his collaborations and projects, William aims to present the virtuosic potential of his instrument and the richness of his heritage and Australian culture to audiences throughout the world. He hopes they will see this music not just as an illustration of some exotic antiquity, but as a living, dynamic process, requiring considerable technique, stamina and study, equal to that of any conventional classically trained professional musician. He is a powerful advocate for the wider perception of his cultural traditions.

A Cockroach's Tarantella (2008)
Du Yun
Text by Du Yun

A Cockroach's Tarantella, for narrator and string quartet, is available in both English and Chinese. Paired with Zolle, it may be performed as half of an evening-length diptych. Both stories are steeped in humankind’s ubiquitous fascination with regression, the conflict of belonging and alienation, and the resurrection archetype.

Listen on Spotify

Three Chinese Love Songs (1988)
Bright Sheng
Text in Chinese by Wang Wei, Tu Fu, Lu Xun

Listen on Spotify

Prayer and Blessing (2020)
Tan Dun 
Text by Laozi

Tan Dun’s unique response to the COVID-19 crisis is meant to be performed with varying instrumentation, together or remotely, virtually or live. The power of the music lies not only in its message, but in its flexibility.

Watch on YouTube

Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva (1988)
Param Vir
Text by Rabindranath Tagore 

Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva is a setting of Tagore's poem for six solo voices and crotales, in an English translation by William Radice. Super-imposed on the piece is the ancient Rig-Vedic Creation Hymn.

For more information, please contact your local Wise Music Promotion Team. See Contact Us.

(May 2021)