Opera “The Siege”

The story was developed by myself with the help of Prof. Brian Skelly while I was in College. And the libretto has not been written. The opera is in a very preliminary preparing stage. By far, the Overture to “The Siege” was premiered by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra on March 21, 2014 and a short aria (chamber version) was premiered by the Atlas Ensemble in Amsterdam, August 2012.

The Siege was inspired by the famous Chinese satiric novel Fortress Besieged (圍城)by Qian Zhongshu(錢鍾書), a Chinese literary scholar and writer known for his wit and erudition. The novel is a humorous tale about middle-class Chinese society in the late 1930s and is widely considered one of the masterpieces of twentieth century Chinese literature. The title is based on a French proverb:

Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.
(Le mariage est une forteresse assieégé, ceux qui sont dehors veulent y entrer, ceux qui sont dedans veulent en sortir.)

As opera, “The Siege” develops another kind of story, based on the implied meaning of the novel. The story is conceptual and abstract, but it symbolizes aspects of real life. Some of the characters, such as the four guards, represent human fallibilities: envy, greed, sloth, and pride. The story is not set in a particular place or era. The plot revolves around the soprano, a girl who is besieged in middle of nowhere, and the baritone, who loves her astonishing beauty and tries to protect her. He is besieged in a larger siege which surrounds her siege. She loves freedom, and the story reveals how her persistent desire and effort to escape the sieges and enter new, wide worlds. He accepts his fate and is satisfied to remain in his small, safe world because his fear of change outweighs his desire to escape. When she finally arrives the ultimate world where there is no more restraint, she finds that this broadest world is a place that reveals ALL the truth. She appeared to the audience with an extremely hideous face.

The overture of The Siege was completed before the libretto was written. It reflects and anticipates the events in the opera, and depicts the restraint, frustration and confusion people feel when besieged. In fact, as the novel Fortress Besieged as well as the opera The Siege suggests, maybe all of us are besieged. Even if some people can break the restraint, they eventually will find that the so called “new free world”, is just a larger siege. Living a life inevitably requires dealing with all kinds of troubles.  And absolute freedom is just an illusory dream.

Overture to “The Siege,” for orchestra. Premiered by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, March 2014.

I hate this siege!, aria from “The Siege,” for soprano, dizi, percussion, zheng, erhu and viola. Performed by Atlas Ensemble, Atlas Music Festival, Conservatorium van Amsterdam, August 2012

©2012-2014 Shuying Li. All rights reserved.

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