Fri, Dec 20, 2002 - Page 18 News List

`Snow' sells out in Taipei

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Operas don't come much more high-brow than Gao Xingjian's Snow in August.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

After two years of preparation, almost a year of fine tuning and much media hype, the curtain finally rose on Gao Xingjian's (高行健) latest stage production, Snow in August (八月雪), yesterday evening, when an all-star cast brought the Nobel laureate's complex and philosophical operatic interpretation of the life of the legendary Tang Dynasty Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, Huineng (慧能), to Taiwan's National Theater (國家戲劇院). "It's been a lengthy process and I'd certainly like to thank all those involved for their patience and understanding," Gao said. "It's a great honor to finally see the production making its world debut in Taiwan this weekend. I've lost a lot of sleep recently, but I feel it will all prove worthwhile when Snow in August opens."

Sponsored by the Council for Cultural Affairs (文建會), Gao's "production for the 21st Century," as critics have dubbed his 16th stage production, features the combined talents of some of Taiwan's leading operatic luminaries as well as a backstage crew that boasts an Oscar-winning costume designer.

The production features Chinese opera stars Wu Hsin-kuo (吳興國), Yue Fu-ruan (葉復潤) and Tsao Fu-yung (曹復永); choreographer Lin Hsiu-wei (林秀偉); members of the prestigious National Fuhsing, National Kuo-kuang and Chinese Acrobatics opera troupes; and costume designer Tim Yip (葉錦添), who won an Oscar for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon -- not to mention celebrated set designer Nieh Kuang-yen (聶光炎).

Critics have quite literally been on the edges of their seats since Gao made his project public at a press conference in Taipei in February this year, which probably helps explain why tickets for all the performances of Snow in August are sold out. While the president, assorted dignitaries and those who purchased tickets well in advance of yesterday's premiere will be fortunate enough to see Gao's latest masterpiece, the rest of us, will, as in the words of an American present at a dress rehearsal, "have to read the book."

After the curtain comes down on Sunday's final act there are, according to organizers, no plans to stage further performances in Taipei. Instead, Gao, Wu and the entire crew will be packing their bags and traveling to France, where Snow in August will be performed in front of a European audience in Marseilles some time next year.

While the cast reads like a "who's who" of Chinese opera, Gao's chronicling of the 250-year dominance of Buddhism in China is far from an a-typical Chinese opera. Instead, Snow in August sees the defined and precise body movements of Chinese opera combined with musical elements of both Western and Chinese classical origin, combined with some very contemporary, highly non-operatic, dance. To ensure the performance's Western operatic elements were as genuine as possible, Gao called on two members of France's Opera de Marseille -- lighting expert Philippe Grosperrin and musical arranger Marc Trautmann -- to add their significant theatrical weight to the project.

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