Jason Kao Hwang: The Floating Box

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Despite its ambitious length, prodigious eclecticism, and complex layers of images and associations, Jason Kao Hwang's chamber opera The Floating Box is, at its core, a domestic drama on an intimate scale. Life in New York City's Chinatown is compellingly portrayed through the use of such instruments as the pipa (Chinese lute), and the gaohu, erhu, and zhongu (two-stringed violins), and Hwang's melodies are ingeniously styled to evoke a Chinese past, remembered with nostalgia and pain by the three main characters. Yet as important as the immigrant experience is to the narrative, it is less significant than the underlying themes of loss, emotional distance, and reconciliation that really carry the opera's action. The cast members -- Sandia Ang as Eva/Yee-Wa, Ryu-Kyung Kim as Mother, and Zheng Zhou as Father's Ghost -- are animated and adequately expressive in their roles, yet the opera's stylized presentation and symbolic storytelling make the characters seem more archetypal than individual. Furthermore, Hwang's virtuosic score distracts more often than it enhances, and listeners who have not seen the stage production may find his music too severe, angular, and avant-garde to appreciate outside the theater. New World's sound quality is clear and vibrant, but also quite loud, so watch the volume.

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