ROIO of the Week
[Recordings of Indeterminate Origin]


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Liu Sola
Fantasy Of The Red Queen [no label, 1CD]
Opera in six scenes with prologue and epilogue
Live at Bockenheimer Depot, Frankfurt am Main, May 5, 2006.


Liu Sola
 

Chinese musician Liu Sola might be classically trained but she is a blues fan and spent time touring the Mississippi Delta and studying the blues. She has also performed with Bill Laswell (and Praxis) and John Zorn (and Painkiller) so she is no stranger to avant-rock/jazz. In 2006, she was commissioned to produce an opera featuring recent Chinese history. The result is The Fantasy Of The Red Queen, performed in May 2006 in Frankfurt and Berlin, Germany.

The opera is about a woman who think she is Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong’s fourth wife and one of the prime movers of the repressive Chinese Cultural Revolution. Just like Jiang Qing who replaced the existing Chinese cultural life (deemed decadent at that time) with one that is stultifyingly her own, Liu has returned to haunt Jiang Qing with a vengeance.

The show begins deceptively enough, with a gu qin lead-in (sounding like a Ry Cooder slide guitar part). But then the music is a page out of John Zorn's notebooks - a collage of Chinese musical motifs and sounds put through a grindmill. It's as if the whole history of Chinese music is condensed into short bites refracted this way and that. While John Zorn can take a perfectly simple Morricone tune and warp it all up, Liu does the same to Chinese pop tunes, evergreens, huang mei tiao and (Chinese) opera.

If there is a quibble (and it is a small one at that), it is that Liu did not make the sound even more extreme. Torn between opting for a condensed visceral impact and a clearer narrative flow, Liu has opted for the latter. The result is almost like the difference between watching Takashi Miike's Audition (whose bouts of violence is interlaced with periods of lyricism) and Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man (with its full-on brutality). Overall, the music cannot fail to captivate.

But again, this musical is a reflection of Jiang Qing's mind rather than from the point of view of her victims. As those who lived through the Cultural Revolution, even full-on brutality might not be brutal enough! [Just in case anyone thinks that the Chinese Cultural Revolution is a figment of somebody's imagination, Chen Jo-hsi's collection of short stories, The Execution Of Mayor Yin, cannot be recommended enough.]

Thanks to tradelivebootlegs who shared the FM broadcast of the Frankfurt show on the internet. As the show was performed in Mandarin, it was broadcast with German announcements between the songs and these have been omitted to give the show a smoother flow. Unfortunately, there is an audible FM hiss, which is pronounced when played loud. For those who do not know Mandarin or want some background to the show, it is suggested they refer to the notes provided by tradelivebootlegs below.

Click on the highlighted tracks to download the MP3s (these are high quality, stereo MP3s - sample rate of 192 kibit/s). As far as we can ascertain, these tracks have never been officially released.

These tracks are no longer available for download. Kindly email us at [email protected] if you want to download these tracks at a later time.

 
Track 01 Prologue Nurse Telephone (4.5MB)
Track 02 Scene 1 Memories Of The Red Queen (15.7MB)
Track 03 Scene 2 Illusions Of The Red Queen (17.3MB)
Track 04 Scene 3 Reality Of The Red Queen (12.9MB)
Track 05 Scene 4 Disillusion And Revenge Of The Red Queen (19.7MB)
Track 06 Scene 5 Revolution (8.7MB)
Track 07 Scene 6 Hospital (10.5MB)
Track 08 Epilogue Nurse Telephone (10.4MB)

Musicians:
Liu Sola - Pop Mezzo Soprano (Jiang Qing)
Wu Jing - Vocal (Nurse)
Zhen Jianhua - Beijing Opera Baritone (Devil)
Liang Heping - Piano
Zhang Hangsheng, Li Zhengui, Zhang Lie - Chinese Percussion
Yang Jing - Pipa
Wu Na - Gu Qin
Ensemble Modern, leader: Johannes Kalitzke

+ + + + +

Notes provided by tradelivebootlegs:

1. General Announcement 6:09
2. Prologue Nurse Telephone 3:19
3. Scene 1 Memories Of The Red Queen 11:28
4. Announcement 0:47
5. Scene 2 Illusions Of The Red Queen 12:38
6. Scene 3 Reality Of The Red Queen 9:25
7. Announcement 0:48
8. Scene 4 Disillusion And Revenge Of The Red Queen 14:23
9. Scene 5 Revolution 6:22
10. Announcement 0:53
11. Scene 6 Hospital 7:42
12. Epilogue Nurse Telephone 7:35
13. Announcement 0:39

Total: 1:22:59

Source & lineage:
hr2 > soundcard > WaveLab > CDR
This is an inferior analog recording from FM into PC. It has - unfortunately - audible FM hiss. I would be very pleased to get a digitally sourced upgrade.

Friends of music released on Axiom and Tzadik labels will be familiar with Liu Sola's works with Bill Laswell and John Zorn, most notably "Blues In The East". Liu Sola had also live guest appearances with Praxis (2000) and Painkiller (2005). Frank Zappa fans might remember the Ensemble Modern from "Yellow Shark".

Though this opera may have little in common with Praxis and Painkiller, it's an interesting effort. The radio program was moderated with announcements in German language. For people whose Chinese and German is not so fluent, it's useful at least to read the description here and given websites. The House of World Cultures (HKW) Festival organizers had assigned Liu Sola to curate the In Transit Festival 2004 and 2005. It brought some interesting events, such as Sussan Deihim's "Madman of God" and Liu Sola's own in 2005. Unfortunately to date none of these have surfaced in the shape of a recording. The HKW then commissioned to Liu Sola the composition of an opera to feature recent Chinese history. The result of this work, Liu Sola's opera "The Fantasy Of The Red Queen", was eventually performed in May 2006 in Frankfurt and in Berlin, and the Frankfurt recording is presented here.

The MC announcements are split into separate tracks. For repeat listens and especially for listeners for whom German language is no help, it may make sense to burn the CDR without the announcements…

[email protected]

http://www.culturebase.net/artist.php?575
http://www.hkw.de/en/programm2006/cultural_memory/texte_2/The_Red_Queen.php
http://www.ensemblemodern.com

The Opera

In cooperation with the Ensemble Modern, the House of World Cultures is premièring the commissioned opera Fantasy of the Red Queen by Liu Sola. This opera, however, does not tell the story of the "Red Queen" herself - that is, of Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong’s fourth wife - but of a woman whose dream of power makes her identify so closely with Jiang Qing that she believes that she really is Jiang Qing.

Jiang Qing was the chief instigator and driving force behind the Cultural Revolution. After a lack-lustre career as an actress in Peking Opera and cinema in 1920s Shanghai, she joined the communists at Ya'nan, where she met and later married Mao. For many years, she was forced to live in his shadow. However, in the mid sixties, in the face of increasing political opposition, Mao enlisted his wife's help in unleashing the Cultural Revolution. Sensing her time had come, she soon became its leading figure. She used the Cultural Revolution to rid herself of personal enemies and rivals, to settle old scores and to impose her notion of ‘revolutionary art’ upon others.

Arrests, torture and political murders - mainly of intellectuals and people working in the cultural sphere - were carried out at her command. Countless publications were destroyed and museums and theatres stormed and looted. Red Guards formed all over China, first at the Universities and shortly afterwards at the schools and factories too. The Red Guards obeyed her orders, causing chaos and destruction across the country. She personally commissioned and directed the eight so-called ‘model operas’ - the only operas allowed to be performed during the Cultural Revolution. After Mao's death, she was arrested by her adversaries and deprived of all her rights, even the right to call herself Mao's widow. She was held in prison for about twenty years before committing suicide - a very ill woman - at the age of eighty.

In Liu Sola's opera, the protagonist is not Jiang Qing but an old woman in a hospital, deranged by her dreams of power. Thus at one level, the opera is a political phantasmagoria: it presents politics as phantasmagoria. It shows the power of illusion - and the illusion of power. Other levels of the story unfold through a mixture of fact and fantasy, memory and desire. Events take place both on stage and on a giant video screen. On stage, we recognise immediately that guardians of the new social order (represented by the nurse, the secretary and the chef) are no longer Red Guards but citizens of a consumer society - a society of cell-phones, global commodities and MSG-laced cuisine.

On stage, the old lady sits staring at a blank wall which turns into a video screen on which she sees herself during different periods of her life: as a young woman, as a Peking Opera actress, as a beautiful mature woman confined to the Forbidden City, and as the Red Queen dressed in Peking Opera costume. In later scenes, other images fill the screen: a Peking Opera dancer performing movements codified as ‘revolutionary’ and the same dancer appearing as a ghost.

In every scene, a masked zither player appears, playing an old tune with no political overtones. This mysterious zither player is a key symbolic figure, representing something like the stubborn structure of historical traditions which persists in spite of ‘revolutionary’ and ‘capitalist’ transformations. The other key figure is the Devil, whose dialogues with the Red Queen lie at the dramatic and emotional centre of the opera. He controls and manipulates her at the same time as he seems to be helping her to gratify her deepest desires.

The Devil understands the power of ‘tradition’, and it is from him that the Red Queen gets the idea of combining Chinese traditional opera and the revolution to form the revolutionary opera. Their interchange serves to show that the desire for power is only one particular instance of the power of desire, which we are paradoxically powerless to resist. This dialectical relationship between power and powerlessness, especially poignant in the case of women in patriarchal society, communist or capitalist, can lead to the tragic end of a Jiang Qing or a Red Queen.

Cast and Credits

Composition and libretto
Liu Sola

Musicians
Ensemble Modern, nineteen instrumentalists;
Nine Chinese instrumentalists of whom six play traditional Chinese instruments: three Chinese drums; the gu qin (zither), pipa (lute); and the piano/accordion (revolutionary style).
Three Chinese singers: Liu Sola as the old lady with delusions about being Jiang Qing; a pop singer as a nurse; a Peking Opera singer as the Devil.
All the instrumentalists have speaking parts as the chorus.

Duration
1 1/2 hours with no interval. The opera consists of a prelude, six scenes and an epilogue, with no change of set.

The Music

The music takes motifs from revolutionary songs, traditional music, Shanghai pop, nineteen thirties jazz, so-called revolutionary tango, traditional Chinese opera, Chinese hip-hop, as well as romantic, modern and contemporary classical music. It draws on the very diverse forms of music created during the last 150 years or so all over the world to explore the relationship between the music and the social imaginary. Liu Sola's own score is generated through a process of composition and decomposition: it eschews musical purity. In music devoted to the Red Queen we hear the beginnings of musical lines that are broken off, interrupted, diverted. Nevertheless, a kind of extreme passion permeates the whole.

The Setting

The musicians from the Ensemble Modern wear black suits and grey arm bands. They form a semi-circle in the background and play the parts of security guards. They also move about: running, dancing and singing. Chinese musicians in the foreground wear grey overalls and play the hospital staff. Liu Sola is the Red Queen: a bewildered old lady. A well known Beijing pop singer takes the role of the nurse who would much rather be a pop star. A well known star from the traditional Peking Opera performs the role of the Devil, who repeatedly helps the Red Queen to establish contact with the past.

The set is uncompromisingly stark and plain; it consists of a large bed with a video screen behind it. The hospital bed fully occupies the centre of the stage. It is here that the Red Queen acts throughout the performance.

A DVD projection on a black-and-white screen provides encrypted flashbacks to the time of the Cultural Revolution as well as to the preceding period: surging crowds, the decorated uniform jacket of a top functionary, a dancing Shanghai Opera beauty from the 1920s... The entire set, including the costumes, is black-and-white. The only fields of colour are the costumes of the Red Queen from her glorious period; some of them hang here and there; and some are worn by her during the course of the opera.




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April 21, 2007









 

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