September 9, 2016 – It was exhilarating when 149 of us descended on San Francisco in the three days before our Dream world premiere on September 10. All of us were primed for excitement and could hardly contain ourselves. The majority of us had checked into The Stanford Court, our headquarters for the weekend. At 4 PM on Friday September 9, we all congregated at the lobby for our welcome reception, hosted by the Hotel. Our warm-hearted chatter soon filled the air, as everyone greeted everyone and received his or her table assignments for our banquet to follow. Shortly after 5 PM we boarded our two private coaches for the ride to Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Millbrae. We were happy to leave the driving to our drivers and sit back to chat and enjoy the views out our windows. Soon we arrived at the restaurant and were whisked right away to our private room where 11 tables were set waiting for us.
An army of waiters soon emerged from the kitchen bearing course after course of our pre-arranged banquet. Each course was artfully arranged to appeal to the eye before the food was served. After all the Chinese are fond of saying that ‘Before one consumes the food one first consumes the utensil’.
1. Roasted suckling pig with jellyfish
2. Sautéed sliced conch and scallops with sugar snap peas
3. Deep fried milk / king prawns wrapped with bacon
4. Braised deluxe bird's nest soup with crab meat
5. Australian #6 abalone and sea cucumber and tender greens
6. Stir fired lobster with ginger and scallions
7. Peking duck with lettuce cups
8. Smoked filet of sea bass
9. Fried rice with dried scallops, egg white and cilantro
10. Dessert: red bean soup or almond jello
We were delighted that our consultant Kevin Smith, librettist David Henry Hwang, set designer Tim Yip, and choreographer Fangyi Sheu were able to join us. They shared some of their comments with us as Pearl Bergad retraced our journey from the inception of the idea to the world premiere the following night.
September 10, 2016 – The day dawned with the appearance of a major article on Dream on the front page of the Arts and Entertainment section of the New York Times (P. XX in Press Highlights). All copies of the newspaper disappeared in the lobby in record time! Everyone spent the day leisurely walking or touring the town. As late afternoon approached excitement began to build. Everyone got dressed early, left the Hotel early for dinner reservations and began to converge at the War Memorial Opera House shortly after 6 PM. Many stopped at the big poster of Dream outside the Opera House to have their ‘selfies’ taken.
As everyone filed into the opera house, the excitement was palpable. When the houselights dimmed, everyone was silent and watching intently as the following credits were flashed across the supertitles screen:
The commission of Dream of the Red Chamber
was initiated and funded by
The Chinese Heritage Foundation
Friends of Minnesota
With leadership support from
The Dr. M.F, Tchou Memorial Fund of the Chinese Heritage Foundation
Benjamin Y. H. and Helen C. Liu, and
Ruth Stricker and the late Bruce Dayton
As the curtains rose on Act I, revealing the breathtaking sets, designed by Tim Yip, and accompanied by the wonderful new music of Bright Sheng, there was a collective gasp from the audience. From that moment on, it was one absorbing scene after another, and one yearning wish after another. Bright’s gorgeous music, dovetailed so well to David Henry Hwang’s words, filled the hall and enveloped us as the timeless story, under the watchful eye of stage director Stan Lai, unfolded before our eyes. And the ardent singing of all the principals pierced everyone’s heart. As Act I ended, everyone poured out on to the North Hallway and congregated where a CHF signs could be seen above everyone’s head. There were so many happy faces as everyone chatted excitedly over what we had all just seen. Then it was time for a group photo. We proceeded over to the grand staircase and filled up the entire space and then some! Interestingly, in addition to our own photographers, strangers were snapping photos of us! We must have looked super-happy, which we were!
Act II brought action after action, deception followed by heartbreak, and false promises turned into flaming destruction. No one breathed until only emptiness remained; and then everyone was in profound silence, trying hard to absorb all that we had seen and heard. Then the applause erupted. It was an experience unlike any other. We had just witnessed a momentous occasion when the tragic story of one of the greatest Chinese novels was brought to life on the San Francisco Opera’s stage to tumultuous accolades. We were humbled and proud at the same time, thrilled that we had been the initiator of it all.
September 11, 2016 – A satisfied sigh accompanied us as we made our way to Hong Kong Lounge on Geary Blvd. for a dim sum lunch with some of our artistic team (composer Bright Sheng, stage director Stan Lai) who were not able to be with us Friday night, and some cast members as well ( ). Bright and Stan were both visibly tired, but so happy. So were all the cast members. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to meet them all and congratulate them in person. Soon, too soon to most of us, we had to leave. Bright and family had a plane to catch, and so did some of our own attendees. Reluctantly we bid everyone goodbye and how true that theme: Thanks for the Memories!