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November 17, 2011

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Chinese legend provides inspiration for rock opera

A night at the opera, no formal-wear required: That is, when it rocks.

"Solar/Lunar: The Legend," reportedly Shanghai's first-ever "rock opera," will unfold its majesty and mystery at DClub on weekend at 10pm. Expect a conniving wife, a magical archer, and a woodsman doomed for eternity. The woodsman won't be holding an actual blade though, he'll be slinging his metaphorical ax, an electric guitar, as he chops away.

A rock opera is an album or play that tells a narrative story through rock songs. Although there are some rumblings that the credit for their inception should belong to various country-rock performers (usually Johnny Cash) or a 1968 album by The Pretty Things called "S.F. Sorrow," the album "Tommy" by The Who, released in 1969, is usually credited.

That album, along with perhaps the most famous rock opera, "The Wall" by Pink Floyd, both feature the smashing of objects. In "Tommy," it's a mirror. In "The Wall," it's the bricks of the ... you know. These acts of destruction serve pivotal plot points, but also act as handy metaphors for the breaking down of barriers in different forms of art.

"Solar/Lunar: The Legend" is not as explicit, but there are still many barriers being torn asunder by this unique production.

The show features solo musicians and members of local groups, all of whom were able to cooperate together for this presentation. Now dubbed The Illumin8tors, the production features performers from Japan, Spain, the USA, England, Russia, and more. Groups represented include Upnavala Groove, Hotter Than Teppanyaki, Pause, and Break for Borneo. The subject of the opera continues the unifying trend, bringing together the expat performers with local culture.

"We thought it made sense to choose a Chinese theme," says Estal Vilar, director of the project, "as respect for our host country and also because ancient Chinese culture is so rich we [found] a good story to use."

The story at hand unfolds in the wake of 10 suns deciding to shine down on Earth at once, making life unbearable. Houyi (played by Nico Usé) is an archer tasked with shooting nine of those stars down. While away, his wife, Chang'e (Olga Merekina), causes a ruckus, which causes her to be banished to the moon.

The musicians who have taken most of the roles may have had some difficulty with the acting aspect of the performance, but are "slowly sinking into (their) new stage personality," says Vilar.

That is not the case for all the performers, however. "(Drummer) Dave Hampson has done the best job I think at incarnating the Jade Rabbit," remarks Vilar. "He starts behaving like it in his normal life sometimes, too."

A musician discovers a hidden talent that allows him to transform into a rabbit: the spirit of opera has indeed infected the Shanghai music scene.


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