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Opera: Blooming Garden of Countless Fragrances Taipei Opera Theater’s 50th Anniversary Concert

Opera: Blooming Garden of Countless Fragrances Taipei Opera Theater’s 50th Anniversary Concert

by TSUI Ya-ting

You might be wondering, how can opera possibly relate to everyday life?

Having originated in 17th-century Italy and with many of its classic pieces written in different languages and set among unfamiliar cultural backgrounds of times long ago, opera might be something quite obscure to you. To be sure, many people, especially in Asia, feel opera is a traditional form of foreign art that is too hard to understand. Nonetheless, Taiwan's "godfather of opera" TSENG Dau-hsiang, who boasts a decades-long resume in the field, has said, "Opera is an art form depicting the stories of everyday people." He believes that even though we may not understand the dialogue and lyrics in opera, when we focus on the story being told, we will see that the human nature being portrayed is something we can all relate to. For example, the themes of conflict, desire, and joys and sorrows of life in opera are universal, unrestricted by time and national boundary, and thus link all of us together.

TSENG would like for all people, regardless of age and gender, to learn to understand and be moved by his beloved art form. He founded the Taipei Opera Theater in 1972, and to date, half a century later, the troupe has put on over 50 operas, including not only classics in German and Romance languages but also Chinese originals.


Italian, French, German, or Chinese?

TSENG says, "[Chinese-speakers] are sometimes unable to understand the lyrics even in Peking opera, so the problem is not about Eastern or Western culture. As long as you are interested and want to understand an opera, there is always a way." He refuses to view language as a barrier. In 1979, he was inspired to keep the German lyrics in Taiwan's first performance of MOZART's classic The Magic Flute even though some of the spoken dialogue was translated into Chinese. In this way, the piece maintained the original integrity of the music while the story was allowed to make its way into the hearts of the audience through the natural medium of their own language.

During his studies in Spain, he was strongly influenced by composer Manuel DE FALLA, who was always proud of his culture and was the first to incorporate flamenco into symphony music. Thus, after nearly 20 years of having brought Western operas to Taiwan, TSENG wrote The Scarecrow and the Thief, integrating his childhood memories from rural Changhua through his own language and music into an expression of concern for the natural environment.


The Perfect Combination of Music and Drama

Opera is a performance art composed of music, drama, literature, dancing, and more—one might call it a science in which various forms of art collaborate. According to TSENG, "Opera is a magnificent pyramid built by the perfect combination of different genres of art. The end result of this compound of music and drama is not 100 + 100 = 200, but 100 x 100 = 10,000! If you remove one of these two aspects, the pyramid loses its golden ratio and falls over." Thus, even after his many years of experience, he is still extremely cautious in his work so as to faithfully manifest the essence of opera.


"A garden blooming with all kinds of flowers, each having its own fragrance."

Full of enthusiasm throughout this interview, TSENG says, "I like so many operas, such as those of WAGNER, MOZART, PUCCINI, MASSENET, and VIVALDI. Each composer's work is different, so opera is like a garden blooming with all kinds of flowers, each having its own fragrance."

Taipei Opera Theater's 50th Anniversary Concert, which will be held at Weiwuying in June, is indeed to be a fragrant garden of music. The first half will include some of the best in German opera, work by MOZART, WEBER, WAGNER, and STRAUSS, while the second half will bring the audience to Italy, France, and Spain to hear pieces by ROSSINI, VERDI, GOUNOD, MASSENET, and DE FALLA, and then two pieces by TSENG for the finale. With select pieces from Taiwan and abroad, the performance is not only going to be a mark of 50 years of the Taipei Opera Theater but an invitation to all to celebrate the brilliance and artistic aesthetic of humanity through the medium of opera.


©National Taichung Theater


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Taipei Opera Theater 50 Anniversary Concert



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