27 July 2017

Datong - The Chinese Utopia at Richmond Theatre was melodic and interesting



A Chinese themed and styled opera at my local theatre was an obvious attraction even though the odd performance times meant that I had to take an afternoon off work to see it. The pricing was friendly enough though and sitting in my preferred area, Dress Circle  Row A  Seat 21, cost me a mere £20, though some of that may have been down to my ATG Card (I cannot remember).

The opera told the tale of "modern China's first major utopian philosopher and earliest constitutional reformer, Kang Youwei and his pioneering daughter, Kang Tongbi." Needless to say I had not heard of either of these people before and knew nothing of their story. It was a story of flight from China, a period in the USA, a death in India and a return to and another death in China.

Apart of the location changes (one for each of the three acts) there was little physical action and little narrative. Instead the space was filled with philosophical and political discussions. Our understanding of these were helped with translations given at each side of the stage in both Chinese (the traditional form, I believe) and English.

The story covered some sixty years starting early in the last century with each act set at a different time. Kang Tongbi was the one constant in all three acts which, made her the star of the show, a billing she lived up to. All of the singing was good and hers was delightful.

I liked the music too. It was in the western tradition, it even incorporated some well-known tunes (e.g. The Beatles' Let it Be), and was given an oriental flavour in both the scoring and the instrumentation. The evocative and mournful sounds familiar from films like House of Flying Daggers came from a huqin (thanks Google) and there was lots of percussion too.

Datong was everything that I hoped it would be, enough of a western opera to be understood with enough Chinese influence to make it different. 

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