Houston Grand Opera & the Asia Society Texas to Give the World Premiere of ‘The Big Swim’

By Afton Wooten
(Photo credit: John Matthew Myers)

Houston Grand Opera and the Asia Society Texas announced their co-production of the world premiere of Meilina Tsui and  Melisa Tien’s opera “The Big Swim.”

The new opera weaves together Eastern and Western cultures, with Tsui’s score incorporating opera buffa, Peking and Cantonese opera, Gregorian chants, American and Asian pop music, animated musicals, and more. In Tien’s modern take on the classic story, notions of individualism and rivalry are gradually replaced by a sense of community and camaraderie among the 12 Zodiac animals. At the end of the race, the characters gather to sing a song of unification and friendship. “The Big Swim” is planned to be presented as an interactive retelling of the great race between the 12 animals of the zodiac calendar, each year as part of its Lunar New Year festivities.

Making their company debuts are soprano Meigui Zhang as Rabbit and Horse, mezzo-soprano Alice Chung as Ox and Pig, tenor Seiyoung Kim singing Monkey and Rat, baritone Joseph Lim as Tiger and Rooster, and bass Zaikuan Song in the roles of Dragon and Dog. Butler Studio alumna and mezzo-soprano Sun-Ly Pierce takes on the roles of Snake & Sheep. Eiki Isomura, artistic director and principal conductor of Opera in the Heights, will take the podium for the production, directed by Mo Zhou.

This one-act opera represents the fifth collaboration between Houston Grand Opera and Asia Society Texas, and the opera company’s 76th world premiere. “The Big Swim” makes its premiere Feb. 16 -18, 2024 at the Asia Society Texas’ Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater.