Q & A: Fay Kueen Wang On ‘Orfeo’ & The Beijing Music Festival

By Francisco Salazar

Composer and performer Fay Kueen Wang’s is a multi-faceted performer who has drawn inspiration from avant-garde concert music, theater, film, electronic music, Chinese folk music, and indie pop, garnering rave reviews along the way. 

She has performed across China, Europe, and the United States in such prestigious venues as the Berliner Philharmonie, Lincoln Center, Arnold Schoenberg Center, Musikverein, Oper Graz, Merkin Hall, Joseph Haydn-Saal, Yun Isang Memorial Hall, Shanghai Concert Hall, and Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts, among others. 

This year she will present “Orfeo,” her new opera immersive opera and a composition, which was commissioned by the Beijing Music Festival under the New Wave Site Specific Opera category. The works, while paying tribute to Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” fuses baroque, avant-garde and rock music to create an immersive operatic experience.

OperaWire sat done with Wang to talk about the work and the challenges of creating a new opera.

OperaWire: How did the rehearsal process go?

Fay Kueen Wang: It went well. We had two runs prior to the opening with an audience. The first run was messy and we did all the tech stuff all the way through. But the second time went well and it was exciting.

OW: What inspired you to write this?

FKW: Zou Shuang and I have been friends for some time and she brought up the fact that she wanted to do something like a sci-fi version of “Orfeo” and I felt like it was a pretty intriguing idea. And from my side, I didn’t want to re-score or redo an opera. But I liked the idea to use the story and quoting themes from Monteverdi’s version. Because its the first opera in recorded history it was very meaningful to quote some of the themes in this new version of Orfeo. But we wanted a modern interpretation of this story. This new version is a bit different from the happy ending in the Gluck and we wanted to do something like in Sci-fi movies where you go in circles. Here we wanted to explore life and death and how humans reflect on the universe and how the universe affects humans. In this opera, you will see the wedding in one space and then a dance party and hell in another space. It’s a story of human nature.

OW: Tell me about the musical aspects and how you fuse pop and classical music together for the opera?

FKW: I have classical training and I have listened to a lot of classical music since I grew up. But I am also intrigued by Rock n’Roll, avant-garde music, and jazz and I had a rock band before. I am also a jazz/rock singer. So when I wrote the work I wanted to pay tribute to baroque music and baroque chamber music. But because later genres were inspired by baroque music like Gothic rock, I think in this piece it was important to unite both genres. It’s almost like Glitch art because in the videos we use we see glitch art and musically it has glitch music with distortions. That is another theme in the work as life can go wrong because we cannot decide everything and it can go in many ways. And that is like a piece of art.

But in terms of how to classify this work, I don’t want the audience to hear what kind of genre the piece is because I often get questioned what kind of music I write and I always find it is hard to answer. I think the genre is a really natural expression for what kind of things you want to present. But genre should not be decided beforehand. You need to know the core of your piece and genre is not the core of the piece.

OW: Tell me about the opera and the immersive experience that audiences will see?

FKW: The beginning of the opera is an actual wedding and we will have a wedding car outside of the theater. So the audience members are wedding guests to the venue and at first, the actors and the audience will be in the same space and the same dimension.

In the beginning, there will be a string quartet and you will experience a real wedding. Then we will lead the audience to the next space and it will be a big dance party and will invite the audience to dance with us for a bit.

The second space has an immersive vibe because the musicians will be sitting around the audience and the audience will also be close to the stage.  The performers will also be in front of the audience’s feet.

OW: What is the most challenging part of doing something like this?

FKW: As a performer, because I will also sing Eurydice, I don’t really get nervous. I’ve done similar shows with my band and as a performer no matter where the audience is, I feel comfortable. And during the rehearsals regardless of the technical issues, I felt great.

I think the most difficult part is the wardrobe because I have three dresses during the show and they are three versions of wedding dresses. There is the normal one, the Pluto version, and the hell version. It’s really cool visually but challenging to change into it.

OW: How does it feel to World Premiere your piece at the Beijing Music Festival?

FKW: I was really surprised that they wanted to do something so different striking because the music festival is labeled as a classical music festival and they have done a lot of traditional programs. Its one of the top music festivals in Asia so it was really bold of them to do something like this. And I think this is a really good opportunity to open the door for a new generation.

OW: After the World Premiere, what are the plans for this opera and what will you be working on next?

FKW: We are planning on touring the piece in a semi-staged version in China. We might also bring it to Europe at a music festival. As for me, I am working on orchestral music and some Indie pop music. My band and I will be on tour for our new season and at the same time, I will record some music.


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