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Leaf Music & City Opera Vancouver Present: “Chinatown”

(KJIPUKTUK) Alice Ping Yee Ho, City Opera Vancouver, and Leaf Music are proud to present Chinatown, a sweeping opera that tells the collective story of thousands of Chinese immigrants who left their homeland between the mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries in search of a better life for them and their families. The first opera in Hoisanese and English and the first to fuse authentic Chinese folk dialects and cultures into the world of English opera, Ho’s Chinatown is a tribute to the legacy of the people who toiled under the promise of prosperity, and instead received abuse and hardship. 

Chinatown revolves around the intertwining lives of Saihin and Xon Pon, two young men from  Hoisan county in South China who have come to Canada in search of prosperity. We follow their story as they meet, work together, endure hardships and have families of their own. A collaboration between composer Alice Ping Yee Ho, librettist Madeleine Thien, and Hoisanese translator Paul Yee, Chinatown brings together decades of lived experience from thousands of Chinese immigrants in an intimate and emotionally arresting musical and dramatic soundscape. 

Ho says the opera is intended to be an artistic depiction of the realities facing early 20th century Chinese newcomers. “This album represents an important work that tells the stories and experiences of early Chinese immigrants. It’s clear by the standing ovations and positive reviews that the opera Chinatown is a beautiful and moving story of racism, resilience, and family.  I hope this album will inspire the audience the same way as it was imagined in the theatre – the experience of an epic journey of music and drama, both heart-wrenching and heart-warming.” 

Founding artistic director, Dr. Charles Barber says, “We conceived the idea for CHINATOWN in mid-2017. It was approved and budgeted by the Board, and so began its development. We spent a year searching for the storyteller. Having chosen Madeleine Thien, we commissioned a scenario and thereafter a draft libretto. The Vancouver Foundation made a stupendous lead grant in support of this project, and this process. One year later, we began taking Maddie’s draft to multiple private and public workshops, with professional actors road-testing its language and structures. Translator Paul Yee joined to lead us in the incorporation of Hoisanese in the opera.”  

“Alice Ping Yee Ho was commissioned in 2020, and thereafter we held public music workshops — again in Chinatown venues, and with professional singers. Delayed by COVID, from concept to curtain took five years. CHINATOWN exists because of the inspired collaboration of Alice, Maddie, and Paul, and the many friends and artists who joined in generous support. We thank them all.” 

“For five nights in September 2022, at the Vancouver Playhouse, our audiences heard the results: a story of strength and resilience in the face of great adversity and loss. We believe this piece is a fitting tribute to those who lived and worked in Chinatown, for which they left everything. In this recording, we hope you will be as moved as were they—and we thank you for listening.”  

It is a timely, significant and often beautiful work that proves well worth the wait. The overwhelming strengths of the show are the singers, the orchestral ensemble, and Alice Ping Yee Ho’s enchanting score  –The Vancouver Sun 

Alice Ping Yee Ho is an award-winning Hong Kong–born Canadian composer known 

for her “distinctly individual” style and “organic flow of imagination.” A two-time Juno Award nominee and a recipient of the Dora Mavor Moore Award, Symphony Nova Scotia’s Maria Anna Mozart Award, Barlow Endowment Commissioning Prize, and Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prize, her works have been performed by ensembles across the globe, including the Toronto Symphony, Finnish Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Polish Radio Choir, Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, and Luxembourg Sinfonietta. 

One of Canada’s most acclaimed writers, Madeleine Thien was born in Vancouver. She is the author of four books of fiction, most recently Do Not Say We Have Nothing, which received the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Her books have been translated into twenty-five languages, and her essays and stories can be found in The New Yorker, Granta, Brick, Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, and elsewhere. 

Paul Yee grew up in Vancouver’s Chinatown in the 1960s. He did volunteer projects there in the 1980s and worked as an archivist while doing an MA in Canadian history. He is a published author of over twenty works. His non-fiction includes Saltwater City: An Illustrated History of the Chinese in Vancouver; his fiction includes children’s books and stories for adults, including A Superior Man, published in 2015. Chinatown is his first opera. 

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. 

About Canada Council for the Arts 

The Canada Council for the Arts contributes to the vibrancy of a creative and diverse arts and literary scene and supports its presence across Canada and around the world. The Council is Canada’s public arts funder, with a mandate to “foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts.” The Council’s grants, services, initiatives, prizes, and payments support Canadian artists, authors, and arts groups and organizations. This support allows them to pursue artistic expression, create works of art, and promote and disseminate the arts and literature. Through its arts funding, communications, research, and promotion activities, the Council fosters ever-growing engagement of Canadians and international audiences in the arts. The Council’s Public Lending Right (PLR) program makes annual payments to creators whose works are held in Canadian public libraries. The Council’s Art Bank operates art rental programs and helps further public engagement with contemporary arts through exhibition and outreach activities. The Council is responsible for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, which promotes the values and programs of UNESCO to contribute to a future of peace, reconciliation, equity, and sustainable development. 

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