The Tales of Hoffmann – San Francisco Opera – Jacques Offenbach – from “Barcarolle” to “Can Can”

The Summer Opera season has just started in  SF Opera.   Tonight we watched The Tales of Hoffmann.  The music, the singing, the costume, the set, were all beautiful.  This is the trailer from SF Opera.

The Tales of Hoffmann Trailer from San Francisco Opera

Jacques Offenbach, the Composer

Les contes d’Hoffmann (in English: The Tales of Hoffmann) is an opera by Jacques Offenbach. It was first performed in Paris, at the Opéra-Comique, on February 10, 1881.

The libretto was written by Jules Barbier, based on three short stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann. E.T.A. Hoffmann himself is a character in the opera just as he often is in his stories. The stories upon which the opera is based are Der Sandmann,Rath Krespel, and Das verlorene Spiegelbild.

The opera contains a prologue, three acts and an epilogue. Offenbach did not live to see his opera performed, since he died on October 5, 1880, just over four months before its premiere. Before his death, Offenbach had completed the piano score and orchestrated the prologue and the first act. Since he did not entirely finish the writing, many different versions of this opera emerged, some bearing little resemblance to the original work. The version performed at the opera’s premiere was that by Ernest Guiraud, who completed Offenbach’s scoring and wrote the recitatives.

 Barcarolle —  the most famous aria

The most famous aria from the opera is the “Barcarolle” (Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour), which is performed in Act 2. Curiously, the aria was not written by Offenbach with Les Contes d’Hoffmann in mind. He wrote it as a ghost-song in the opera Les fées du Rhin (which premiered in Vienna on February 8, 1864 as Die Rheinnixen). Offenbach died with Les contes d’Hoffmann unfinished.

Ernest Guiraud completed the scoring and wrote the recitatives for the premiere. He also incorporated this excerpt from one of Offenbach’s earlier, long-forgotten operas into the new opera.

The Barcarolle has been incorporated into many movies including Life Is Beautiful and Titanic.

The most famous aria Barcarolle  ….sound familiar?   Yes, we all played it when we were children!  It is beautiful and has different ways of presentation.   I found this one played with mandolins, guitar, double bass and piano.  Enjoy!

Barcarolle, J.Offenbach, ATTIKA “Musica Poetica” official version

 “Barcarolle” was originally composed for soprano.  Let us hear these beautiful voices:

Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca sing “Barcarolle”

Finally, please don’t forget, that Offenbach has another very popular piece widely used in movies all over the world: Can Can.  This video uses the images from the artist Toulouse-Lautrec  who is famous for his Moulin Rouge paintings.  Enjoy!

French CanCan – Jacques Offenbach (Orphée aux Enfers)

I would like to end this post with a very interesting quote from Thomas May who wrote in the program book for SF Opera.  He said that Hoffman has become Offenbach’s signature work but it has actually made a big shift of his style from light-hearted comedy. He quoted David Littlejohn’s comments: “as if the world’s most popular comedian had a try at playing Hamlet just before he died, and pulled it off successfully.”

A Word A Week Challenge: Music

IMG_0820This is in response to A Word A Week Challenge: Music

When I saw this Challenge, I became excited. Music is a very important part of my life. I did not study music in particular, or play any musical instruments, though I did learn to play piano when I was a child. My interest in music has recently been enhanced by my newly developed hobby–video making.  It is all because of my new iPhone 5 which I got around November last year. I brought it as my camera and video camera when I went on a trip to South America.  I took many pictures and video clips with my iPhone.  When I came back, I started to learn about creating videos from a number of video clips.  For some of my readers who  follow my other travel blog My Notebook, you may have seen these videos before.  For South America, I created a total of 17 videos which show the different sites that I visited.  One of the reasons I really like working on these videos is the audio that I chose for each video.  I like particularly to mix the original sound and noises with the music that I added.

I am so glad to see this challenge today, because I want to show a few of these videos that I created, in one post, so that you all can appreciate them.  As I have got some new readers on this Blog, I’d like to share with them.  I only chose a few. If you are interested viewing and listening to all of them please check out My Notebook.

After seeing and listening to my videos, please let me know which one you like best and least, both the music and the pictures.  I have used Tango, Samba, and classical music like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Sleeping beauty and Swanlake, Strauss ‘s Die Fiedermaus, Bach’s Air on the G String, and the popular song Corcovado?  I hope you like them.

Sea Gulls on board Cau Cau – Bariloche, Argentina, December, 2012

Caminito and La Boca – the inspiration of the Argentine tango music “Caminito”, December, 2012

Sambadrome – Venue of the Rio Carnival – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – December, 2012 

El Calafate – Excursion at Lake Argentino, December, 2012

Christ the Redeemer, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Brazil – December, 2012 

Sugar Loaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December, 2012

Magellanic Penguins on Isla Magdalena, Chile, December 2012

Finally, the following video was shot in Alaska before my video days.  I only took a short clip. After learning how to add music etc, I re-did this video with Beethoven’s  5th Symphony, mixing with the loud comments of my brother and the sound of the waterfall!

Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls, Alaska, September, 2012

An Interview with Guo Gan, the Erhu Artist

This is a follow-up post of my previous one Violin Concerto Butterfly Lovers and Erhu Concerto Butterfly Lovers. You have already seen his performance of the Butterfly Lovers. Here’s another beautiful performance:

Guo Gan Playing “For the World”, the soundtrack of the movie “Hero” in Paris

Now you may be interested to know more about Guo Gan.  I found this interesting article written by a French Journalist:

Making Each Day, Each Note Count — Dialogue with Erhu Musician, Guo Gan

View with Pagination
BY Aart Greta & Guo Gan

Born in Shenyang, China in 1968,GUO GAN was first trained by his father, Guo Junming, a renowned erhu(Chinese violin) master. An honors graduate from Shenyang Music Conservatory, he became professor at Liaoning Music Conservatory in 1995. Also a jazz specialist, Guo founded the jazz groups, GYQ and Dragon Jazz, while pursuing his interest in percussion.Living in France since 2001, he has recorded for numerous French film soundtracks, including L’Idole, (dir. Samantha Lang), Sa Majesté Minor(dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud), Le Premier Cri (dir. Gilles de Maistre), and others. Performing with more than ten orchestras in Europe and Asia, he has regularly collaborated with internationally acclaimed artists such as Lang Lang, Didier Lockwood, Yvan Cassar, and Gabriel Yared. A highly prolific performer, Guo Gan continues to perform worldwide, in all genres varying from classical to contemporary, avant-garde and cross-disciplinary. His newest CD, Une seule prise/In One Take(accompanied by a beautifully illustrated booklet of photographs and poetry), recorded with award-winning guzheng (Chinese zither) concertist, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, was just released in France this October.Guo now lives in Paris, France, with his wife, pianist Long Long and their daughter. Visit
I like every question and answer of this interview, but I would like to particularly quote this one:
“Tell us about the development of erhu music in the contemporary Chinese society, and our world.
Generally speaking, the development of erhu music in China over the past twenty years has been growing fast and steadily. More and more children are learning to play erhu, and of course more amateurs. The problem is that many contemporary erhu performers, i.e. the newer post-Cultural Revolution generation, are “nowhere — neither East nor West.” At the same time that they try to imitate performers from the West, they fail to master what is most Orientally attractive and original about their own culture and tradition. There is a fashion of blindly worshipping the Occident among the young generation, to the extent that they are better at imitating or learning Western artistic expressions than mastering, fine-tuning or learning what belongs to themselves. Piano is a good example.
Erhu music in contemporary Chinese society is threatened by the fact that erhu concerts do not sell in the mainstream culture. Like guzheng (Chinese zither), for instance, it is considered an elite art. Art tastes in the contemporary Chinese society are pretty commercialized. What sells most is popular music by television singers or pop stars. In the world at large, there are now, of course, more professional erhu players spread across the globe. But not all of them persevere in their erhu careers. Many of them, after having led professional careers as musicians in China, opt to do something else once they move abroad. There are many reasons why. Some of them want to earn money, have family obligations, marry and have children, etc. There are at five or six erhu professional players in Paris, for example. Most of them play once in a while for festive celebrations in the Chinese community, just for fun, but they do not venture beyond that. They have their day-jobs, or other careers. Overall, there are now more opportunities for Westerners to appreciate erhu music, but erhu solo concerts are still relatively limited, and real, good erhu players at the concert level with a good understanding of world cultures and sensibilities are hard to come by.
While more Chinese are learning to play the erhu, it is not the case for Westerners, who maintain their enthusiasm for this instrument at the level of appreciation. Unlike the Chinese, the Westerners resist imitating others. Therefore, it is still rather rare that Westerners pick up the instrument and play it, let alone perform it. Besides, audiences do not wish to see a non-Chinese playing a Chinese instrument. There is a stigma somehow. They want the “complete image” of a Chinese playing a Chinese instrument. Everyone easily knows who Beethoven or Schubert is, but no one knows in the Western society (or the Chinese society, for that matters) who the erhu masters are, for example. Perhaps even less than 1% really know who they really are, after all.”
When I was a child, I had an urge to study some Chinese musical instruments like guzheng, but the instrument is too large to carry.  I did try Pipa for a few months and gave up.  My friend who went to the same teacher and brought her Pipa to the U.S. when she studied there, also gave up after a short practice. I never fancied about erhu because I always thought it was a man’s music instrument, and only old people played erhu!  I was a child!
What Guo Gan said in the interview has resonated with my thinking about Chinese music instruments, and the younger generation in Hong Kong which is now part of China…neither East or West…
I don’t know where this will go.  My hope is that we all will learn from each other, and become stronger in our own world of studies, whether it is art, music, or other humanities studies. I wish Guo Gan will play a more important role in the future making Erhu more popular in the Western world.  Good luck to you, Guo Gan!  We rely on you to bring Chinese music instruments to a different level, so that more people in other parts of the world will be able to appreciate the beautiful music played with these instruments. 
This conversation has made me think of the Modern Chinese Art…another conversation next week, my friends.

Violin Concerto Butterfly Lovers, and Erhu Concerto Butterfly Lovers

My last few posts on the Yellow River and the art and music related to the Mother River of the Chinese people, have stimulated me to search for more…more contributions from Chinese composers to music in the Western world.

 Violin Concerto Butterfly Lovers

I am happy to introduce to you a very famous Violin Concerto Butterfly Lovers, composed by two music students in 1959.  Please enjoy the music performed by Lu Si-qing, a well known violinist in China.

I hope you all like the music and the performance.  Wikipedia actually has a very detailed description how this violin concerto was composed.’_Violin_Concerto

The Music

“The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto (Traditional Chinese: 梁祝小提琴協奏曲; Simplified Chinese: 梁祝小提琴协奏曲) is one of the most famous modern works of Chinese music. It is an orchestral adaptation of an ancient legend, the Butterfly Lovers. Written for the western style orchestra, it features a solo violin played using some Chinese techniques.

The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto is written in traditional 5-note technique (pentatonic scale).  It uses many Chinese melodies, chord structures and patterns. This gives the piece a distinctive “Chinese” sound, though it uses tonal harmonies.

The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto was written in 1959 by two Chinese composers, Chen Gang (陳鋼 (or 陈钢), born 1935) and He Zhanhao (何占豪, born 1933), while they were students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. The music did not attain popularity before the late 1970s, when China loosened its restrictions after the Cultural Revolution. Once released from censorship, it became an embodiment of China in transition. The work is a common feature in figure skating and in concert halls worldwide. This concerto is now often performed with Chinese instruments playing the violin part, the most common being ErhuPipa and Liuqin. In such cases the soloist is often accompanied by an orchestra consisting of Chinese instruments.”

Wow!  I just found a beautiful performance of this music piece with the traditional Chinese musical instrument Erhu. The title of this performance is:

Guo Gan – Butterfly Lovers 梁祝 (Erhu Concerto).  Please don’t miss this one.  I do not know Erhu at all, but it is so beautiful!

Erhu Concerto Butterfly Lovers

After I have seen this performance, I can’t help searching to find out who is Guo Gan. I found an interview by a French journalist.  Guo Gan doesn’t like to be called “musician”.  He prefers to be called “artist”.  However, the title is still….”Dialogue with erhu-musician Guo Gan”!  I will write about this artist in my next post.

For easy listening, you may also like to listen to a Western style interpretation of the Butterfly Lovers played by a French pianist Richard Clayderman.

Do you want to know more about the background of this piece of beautiful music and why is it so popular? Most of the information I got is from this wiki website:

“The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend of a tragic love story of a pair of lovers, Liang Shanbo (梁山伯) and Zhu Yingtai (祝英台), whose names form the title of the story. The title is often abbreviated to Liang Zhu (梁祝) and often regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet.[1][2]

Six cities in China have collaborated in 2004 on a formal application for the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity[3] on the legend at UNESCO,[4] submitted in 2006 through the Chinese Ministry of Culture.”

The Story

“The legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai is set in the Eastern Jin Dynasty.

Zhu Yingtai is a beautiful and intelligent young woman, the ninth child and only daughter of the wealthy Zhu family of ShangyuZhejiang. Although traditions of that era discourage females from going to school, Zhu manages to convince her father to allow her to attend classes in disguise as a young man. During her journey to Hangzhou, she meets Liang Shanbo, a scholar from Kuaiji (present-day Shaoxing). They chat and feel a strong affinity for each other at their first meeting. Hence, they gather some soil as incense and take an oath of fraternity in the pavilion of a thatched bridge.

They study together for the next three years in school and Zhu gradually falls in love with Liang. Although Liang equals Zhu in their studies, he is still a bookworm and fails to notice the feminine characteristics exhibited by his classmate.

One day, Zhu receives a letter from her father, asking her to return home as soon as possible. Zhu has no choice but to pack her belongings immediately and bid Liang farewell. However, in her heart, she has already confessed her love for Liang and is determined to be with him for all eternity. Before her departure, she reveals her true identity to the headmaster’s wife and requests her to hand over a jade pendant to Liang as a betrothal gift.

Liang accompanies his “sworn brother” for 18 miles to see her off. During the journey, Zhu hints to Liang that she is actually a woman. For example, she compares them to a pair of mandarin ducks (a symbol of lovers in Chinese culture), but Liang does not catch her hints and does not even have the slightest suspicion that his companion is a woman in disguise. Zhu finally comes up with an idea and tells Liang that she will act as a matchmaker for him and his “sister”. Before they part, Zhu reminds Liang to visit her residence later so he can propose to marry her “sister.” Liang and Zhu reluctantly part ways at the Changting pavilion.

Months later, when Liang visits Zhu, he discovers that she is actually a woman. They are devoted to and passionate about each other and they make a vow of “till death do us part”. The joy of their reunion is short-lived as Zhu’s parents have already arranged for her to marry a man from a rich family called Ma Wencai. Liang is heartbroken when he hears the news and his health gradually deteriorates until he becomes critically ill. He dies in office later as a county magistrate.

On the day of Ma and Zhu’s marriage, mysterious whirlwinds prevent the wedding procession from escorting the bride beyond Liang’s grave, which lies along the journey. Zhu leaves the procession to pay her respects to Liang. She descends in bitter despair and begs for the grave to open up. Suddenly, the grave opens with a clap of thunder. Without further hesitation, Zhu throws herself into the grave to join Liang. Their spirits turn into a pair of beautiful butterflies and emerge from the grave. They fly away together as a pair of butterflies and are never to be separated again.”

If you continue to read this wiki page, you will find lots of information about this legend made into movies, stage operas, plays, the establishment of temples, parks in various locations etc.  There is one piece of information which is new to me :

Sino-Italian love culture festival held in Verona

“The Sino-Italian love culture festival was held Wednesday in the northern Italian city of Verona, co-sponsored by the municipal governments Verona and east China’s Ningbo city.

As the fictitious hometown of Romeo and Juliet, leading characters in Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet, Verona is one of the most ancient and beautiful cities in Italy.

Ningbo is also a city in east China’s Zhejiang province, where the Chinese classical romantic tragedy Butterfly Lovers, or Liang Zhu, took place. The Butterfly Lovers is also known as China’s play of Romeo and Juliet.

A white marble statue portraying Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, the two lovers who eventually turned into butterflies, was placed in the square in front of the Juliet Museum in central Verona during the festival.

Fifteen couples from Ningbo in Chinese-style costumes held a romantic wedding in Verona, with blessing from the locals.

Ningbo and Verona became sister cities in October 2005. A delegation of Verona visited Ningbo in 2007 and presented the city a bronze statue of Juliet.”

(Xinhua News Agency September 25, 2008)

Indeed this is a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet.   However, there is no Shakespeare in China.  We don’t even know who wrote this Butterfly Lovers story!  The story continues as a legend. Beautiful music and great performances played by great artists have kept this love story alive…forever!

I am particularly amazed today after having found out the Erhu performance of the Butterfly Lovers.  I hope I have the chance to see it live!