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Work of the Week – Christian Jost: Rote Laterne

Christian Jost’s new opera Rote Laterne (“Red Lantern”) will receive its world premiere on 8 March 2015 at Opera Zurich in a production directed by Nadja Loschky. The opera, with a libretto written by Jost himself, is based on the Chinese writer Su Tong’s novel “Wives and Concubines” depicting a girl broken down by the concubine system in 1930s China. The novel was turned into a successful film of the same name.

The subject of Asia has been a recurrent theme in Jost’s compositional career. He has long-established connections with Chinese orchestras and more recently was Composer in Residence in Taipei during their 2012-13 season. In several of his works Western musical training is merged with his passion for Eastern musical traditions – with Rote Laterne a prime example. The work is part of an opera trilogy together with Die arabische Nacht and Rumor, and in a theme common to Jost’s operatic output, the key role is played by a young woman typified by her modernity.

Song-Lian is the opera’s protagonist who marries into the traditional Chinese household of Master Chen as his fourth wife. In this remote and competitive house the ultimate goal is to be favoured by the Master, a status signified by the red lantern. Each time the lantern shines in front of one of the wives’ rooms, she climbs one step higher in the hierarchy of the house. Song-Lian however, refuses to accept a life where her sole aim is waiting for the lantern:

Song-Lian has more ambitious aims than merely succumbing to the finely spun web of intrigue and passion of Master Chen. The year she spends with him becomes a nightmare in which the seasons alter as they please and lust and jealousy dictate the hours of the day. As if in a dream she falls into a sequence of events, realising that the secret to her world lies at the bottom of a well. – Christian Jost

Later in March another work by Christian Jost will receive its world premiere: his BerlinSymphonie performed by the Konzerthausorchester under the baton of Iván Fischer on 20 and 21 March 2015 at the Berlin Konzerthaus.

Photo: Opera Zurich / Monika Rittershaus