Golden Lily 金莲
an Opera in 3 Acts
Golden Lily is a three-act opera based on the sixteenth-century anonymous Chinese novel Plum in the Golden Vase (Jin Ping Mei). Its creators, composer Fang Man, librettists Jie Guo envision it to be the first of a trilogy of operas featuring the three titular characters—Golden Lily (Jin), Little Vase (Ping), and Spring Plum (Mei)—of the novel.
The Original Novel
Plum in the Golden Vase is hailed as one of the “Four Marvelous Works” of traditional Chinese literature. Full of erotic scenes, it has been constantly banned ever since its appearance in the sixteenth century. Nonetheless, celebrated for its realist approach to late imperial Chinese society, nuanced portrayal of complex human nature, and incisive but compassionate exploration of human nature, this novel is recognized as one of the greatest Chinese literary works of all times and has been translated into multiple Western languages. In the English-speaking world, the renowned Sinologist David Roy’s complete translation of the novel was published by Princeton University Press in five volumes over the span of ten years (1993-2013).
Centrally featuring the relationships of the wealthy merchant Ximen Qing and his wives and mistresses, the original novel has one hundred chapters and depicts hundreds of characters. As a two-hour opera, our current project focuses on Golden Lily, one of the three main female characters in the novel. Golden Lily is arguably the most infamous femme fatale in Chinese literature. As a murderess who poisoned her first husband in cold blood, she is comparable in ferocity to Elektra, Salome, and many other controversial heroines in opera history. In addition, Golden Lily is known for her unsatiable lust for men.
This opera, however, does not merely explore the dark side of this woman. Highlighting her desire to be with the man (her first husband’s younger brother) she loves and her fury at her fate of being sold from one man to another, we present Golden Lily as a woman who struggles for a better life but is only to be betrayed by people around her, including the only man she loves. Trafficking of women has been a deep-rooted problem in China and around the world. Indeed, the story of Golden Lily may be set in the premodern period, it is still highly relevant to us today and will strongly resonate with the audience.
The creators envision Golden Lily to be the first of a trilogy of operas that each focus on one of three main characters of the novel Plum in the Golden Vase: Golden Lily, Little Vase, and Spring Plum. While Golden Lily explores a woman’s fury and sexuality, the second opera about Little Vase focuses on a mother’s grief over the loss of her child. Finally, our planned third opera features one of the most unusual relationships in the novel, that between Spring Plum and Golden Lily, who unconditionally love each other in the hostile world they live in.