UK premiere of The Wager by Wen Deqing on 26 & 27 May

The Guildhall School and Shanghai Opera House present the UK premiere of Wen Deqing’s original contemporary Chinese opera The Wager on 26 & 27 May and a concert of traditional Chinese music on 22 May as part of a miniature residency by the Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Group.

Lynne Williams, Principal of the Guildhall School, commented, “The Guildhall School is delighted to welcome the Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Group to London for this residency in what is another fantastic opportunity for the School to further develop its cultural ties with China and to make a significant contribution to cultural exchange in this way. It is especially exciting for Guildhall School musicians to be collaborating with the Shanghai Opera House for the UK premiere of Wen Deqing’s opera and to be part of such a fruitful and stimulating experience.”

Madame Zhang Ming, President of the Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Group, commented, “Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Group and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama share strong collaborative ties. Shanghai Grand Theatre invited the Guildhall School to perform at the Opera Connect Gala in 2015 and the play Go, Make You Ready in 2016. Both programmes won high acclaim in Shanghai. The contemporary Chinese opera The Wager is atonal with unusual intonation. Performances of this co-production by Shanghai Opera House and the Guildhall School in London will help promote the sustainable culture exchange between our two countries.”

A Faustian story of luck, temptation and fate, The Wager is based on the novel A Gamble on a Snowy Night by Gao Xiaosheng. The story opens on New Year’s Eve and follows Zhao, a squire, and his intrigue with a beggar who appears in rags seeking alms. An orchestra of Guildhall musicians join forces with singers from Shanghai Opera House for the performances on 26 & 27 May in Silk Street Theatre, conducted by Zhang Chengjie and directed by Chen Xinyi.

The creative team is completed by set designer Gao Guangjian, costume designer Li Ruiding and lighting designers Zhang Shunchang and Liu Shenhui. The Wager premiered at the Amadeus Festival in Geneva in 2003, and had its first debut at Shanghai Grand Theatre in China in the same year. Since then, it has been performed many times in various cities in China such as Beijing and Shanghai. In 2008, the opera made its second appearance in Europe with a performance at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland. The UK premiere marks the third time the opera has been performed on the world stage.

Composer Wen Deqing commented, “The Wager is based on an allegorical story which may happen to anyone, at anytime, anywhere in the world. The music reflects the complexity of the Chinese language; a one-syllable language with four different tones for each sound. The piece draws inspiration from centuries-old Chinese art forms using a combination of traditional Chinese instruments.”

On 22 May, instrumentalists of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra present ‘The Elegant East’, a concert of traditional Chinese music in Milton Court Concert Hall. The music is performed on traditional Chinese instruments including a guqin, an ancient seven stringed instrument with a history stretching back over three thousand years, a bamboo flute and a pipa performed by musicians Fang Yu, Zhao Yunmeng and Zhu Tianjin respectively.

The Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Group Residency is the latest in several collaborations between the Guildhall School and Chinese performing arts institutions which were initially fostered in the 2015 UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange.

Previous collaborations have included:

  • April 2015: the Guildhall’s award-winning opera department presented an Opera Connect Gala of classical and contemporary operatic excerpts at Shanghai Grand Theatre, supported by the City of London Corporation and the Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Group Cultural Development Foundation.
  • October 2015: the School co-hosted the Sino-UK Performing Arts Forum at the China Shanghai International Arts Festival, focusing on creating stronger performing arts synergies between China and the UK, a follow-up to the UK-China arts and education forum hosted by the School and the Barbican in 2009.
  • December 2015: the School announced a major new partnership with the Central Academy of Drama, Beijing to deliver a joint Bachelor’s Degree in Acting Studies for Chinese students.
  • April 2016: the Guildhall School’s Professor of Text and Poetry Patsy Rodenburg devised piece Go, make you ready, which formed part of Shakespeare400 celebrations in the UK, toured China with a group of Guildhall actors. Performances took place at Shanghai Grand Theatre, Central Academy of Drama, Beijing and Guo Tai Arts Centre, Chongqing as part of the British Council’s global campaign Shakespeare Lives.

The Guildhall School of Music & Drama is provided by the City of London Corporation.


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