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Hwang: The Floating Box / Juan Carlos Rivas, Et Al

Release Date: 04/26/2005 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80626   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jason Kao Hwang
Performer:  Sandia AngZheng ZhouRyu-Kyung KimDiana Herold,   ... 
Conductor:  Juan Carlos Rivas
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 41 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Floating Box tells the story of a Chinese family settled uneasily in New York’s Chinatown. The father, who has died shortly before the opera begins, was a famous musician reduced to working as a chef on a cruise ship after the escape from China. He appears alternatively as a ghost and in flashbacks of their life in the United States before his death. The mother, who is struggling to learn English, does piece work for garment makers, while Eva (the Americanized version of her Chinese name Yee-Wa) teaches English to other Chinese immigrants. The story is a typical one of a first generation struggling between the pull of the old culture, one in which the family had considerable status, with the new culture in which they are forced to start Read more from scratch. The death of the father has left his family even more at a loss, financially as well as spiritually, as to how to proceed. As the opera progresses, Eva and her mother come to terms with the past and their new lives in their new country.

The libretto, by Catherine Filloux, handles the juxtapositions of time and place with admirable fluidity. There is a stately quality to much of the language, echoed in the glacial progression of the music that suggests a re-enactment of a timeless drama that has happened an infinite number of times before and will continue to happen through infinity, quite removing the story from a specifically mid-1980s location in a very real American city. At different points, the family’s isolation is emphasized by the mother’s attempt to learn English by repeating the weather reports that appear in fragmented radio broadcasts. How the piece would work in performance is unclear. The libretto moves forward at a very slow pace, conversations taking place at approximately the same rate as one would find in Parsifal, for example. The ritualistic quality is emphasized by music that is composed for a combination of Western and Chinese instruments, with the emphasis on patterns and atmosphere rather than forward motion in any Western harmonic sense. The sung lines are all written for conventional operatic voices, with none of the nasality or tiny inflections of tuning that are such a feature of actual Chinese singing, which play against the exotic backdrop of Western and Chinese music, again creating a sense of strangers in a strange land. The music is oddly compelling and often quite beautiful. Obviously, much like Parsifal, the slowest of Wagner’s works, the staging would have to embrace the fact that nothing happens very quickly and much is in the form of fairly to very slow ritual. At home, within the theater of the mind, the listener can create pictures in which the slow rate of change seems appropriate.

The performance and recording seem about perfect. The cast has nearly perfect diction, and the enclosed libretto is rarely necessary for anything other than to keep up with the stage directions. Not for everybody, but certainly interesting and at times compelling.

John Story, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown by Jason Kao Hwang
Performer:  Sandia Ang (Soprano), Zheng Zhou (Bass Baritone), Ryu-Kyung Kim (Mezzo Soprano),
Diana Herold (Vibraphone), Min Xiao Fen (Pipa), William Schimmel (Accordion),
Michiyo Suzuki (Clarinet), Satoshi Takeishi (Percussion), Tomas Ulrich (Cello),
Guowei Wang (Gaohu), Scott Chan (Voice), Charlee Chiv (Voice),
Mona Chiang (Voice), Wai Ching Ho (Voice), Henry Yuk (Voice),
Diana Herold (Percussion), Patti Monson (Piccolo), Michiyo Suzuki (Bass Clarinet),
Guowei Wang (Erhu), Guowei Wang (Zhong ruan), Patti Monson (Alto Flute),
Patti Monson (Flute)
Conductor:  Juan Carlos Rivas
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001 
Date of Recording: 10/30/2001 
Venue:  Avatar Studios, New York City 
Length: 61 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Language: English 

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