Show artwork for Book of Mountains and Seas

Book of Mountains and Seas Book of Mountains and Seas

Composed by Huang Ruo

April 1014

At the The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage

Composer Huang Ruo and puppeteer Basil Twist reinterpret Chinese creation myths for the 21st century.

A fantastical world of sunbirds, demons and hairy giants is evoked in Book of Mountains and Seas, a fascinating work of vocal theater for 12 singers, two percussionists and six puppet masters. Composer/librettist Huang Ruo took his inspiration from a classic compilation of Chinese mythology《山海經》first transcribed in the fourth century B.C. Over the years, these stories have become part of Chinese written and oral history, shifted and reshaped to match contemporary times. 

First performed in 2021, Huang Ruo's compelling new adaptation of these tales comes to the Broad Stage as LA Opera's 12th collaboration with the groundbreaking Beth Morrison Projects. Told through the lens of our modern-day relationship with the natural world, the ancient stories of creation and destruction conjure a sense of respect and awe for the environment and the water stories challenge us to be good stewards of the natural resources we have been given. Book of Mountains and Seas contains timeless codes about the universe, creation, planet, nature, life, human ambition and fate, the relationship and interaction between mankind and the world we live in. 

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"Book of Mountains and Seas is an exquisite masterpiece of suggestion, an immersive tapestry of sound and image that weaves itself into your consciousness and makes its point about the interdependence of humans and their planet without ever saying it outright."

Heidi WalesonWall Street Journal

Artists

Composer & Librettist
Huang Ruo
Director & Production Design
Basil Twist
Conductor
Miles Lallemant
Lighting
Poe Saegusa
Vocal Ensemble
Ars Nova Copenhagen
Creative Producer
Beth Morrison

The Story

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The Story

Book of Mountains and Seas《山海經》is a work of vocal theater for 12 singers, six puppeteers and two percussionists. It is inspired by the ancient Chinese compilation of early myths of the same title, which was first transcribed in the 4th century B.C. Over the years, these mythological stories have become part of Chinese written and oral history, shifted and reshaped to match our contemporary times. The vocal-theater work Book of Mountains and Seas is a 21st-century adaptation and expansion of four of these tales. Its lyrics are based on the original Chinese texts from the book, with additional newly created words to complete the soundscape and symbolic drama. As the four tales are ancient, they are abstract and timeless. Book of Mountains and Seas contains timeless codes about the Universe, creation, planet, nature, life, human ambition and fate, the relationship and interaction between mankind and the planet, etc.

Scene One: The Legend of Pangu 《盤古開天地》The creation of our planet is told through The Legend of Pangu 《盤古開天地》. The Legend of Pangu illuminates Earth’s birth from a cosmic egg, which contained the hairy giant Pangu. He separates the egg’s parts — the yin and the yang — to create the Earth and the sky, which he held apart for 18,000 years. As Pangu grew, the sky moved further from the Earth; when he died, his body became the Sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, animals, minerals, vegetation, rains, winds, and finally, humans of our planet.

Scene Two: The Spirit Bird 《精衛填海》The Spirit Bird focuses on the relationship between a tiny helpless bird and the vast powerful sea through a tale of an impossible yet persistent revenge. A princess named Nǚ Wá drowns at sea. Her spirit takes over the body of a bird, and for the rest of time she attempts to exact revenge on the water, filling the sea with twigs and pebbles.

Scene Three: The Legend of Ten Suns 《后羿射日》A continuation of the creation story, scene three is based on the story of the Ten Suns, who are the children of Mother Xī Hé and Dì Jùn, God of the Eastern Heaven. The Ten Suns peacefully resided on a mulberry tree in the eastern sea. Each Sun revolved around Earth in formation riding a Sun bird, a routine that they tired of. One day, the Ten Suns decided to fly out together, which shriveled the crops, dried up the water, and caused animals and humans to die. Hou Yì, God of Archery, was called upon to help control his children. Hou Yì killed nine of the suns, sparing the last to leave Earth with light. Out of fear, the remaining sun remains faithful to his fixed schedule of flight, which creates night and day.

Scene Four: Kuā Fù Chasing the Sun 《誇父逐日》Kuā Fù is a giant who wished to capture the Sun. Kuā Fù was perplexed by the Sun’s whereabouts at night and decided to chase and catch the Sun. With each stride he gets closer to the Sun, however, he could never catch up to it. He followed the Sun from the East to the West, draining all rivers and lakes crossing his path as sources of water to quench his burning thirst as he closed in on the star. However, he couldn’t finish his quest because he died of the extreme heat and exhaustion. When he died, he dropped his walking stick on the ground, which grows into forests of peach blossom trees.

These myths will be reinterpreted through the lens of our modern-day relationship with the world we live in. The two creation stories conjure a sense of respect and awe for the Universe and environment. In The Legend of Pangu, the humble lesson to learn is that humans, although are the rulers of our planet now, are created last. They are created as equally as with everything else. However, do humans respect the nature and the natural process of Universal order? In The Spirit Bird, this intriguing story asks important questions: is weak force always meant to submit and surrender to strong force? Is endless revenge always meaningless? In Kuā Fù Chasing the Sun, it is illustrated that the ambition of human beings and the belief that nature can be conquered and consumed endlessly will eventually backfire on us. Maybe in this apocalyptic moment of the world, nature gets the last laugh and will survive beyond us.

Book of Mountains and Seas runs around 75 minutes without intermission.

— Huang Ruo, 2021

Commissioned, developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects.

Co-presented with BroadStage at The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

Broadstage BMP

Performances take place at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage at Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center (1310 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401).

Performed in Mandarin with English subtitles

Off Grand productions are supported by a consortium of generous donors to 
LA Opera’s Contemporary Opera Initiative, chaired by Barry and Nancy Sanders 

Artwork for Book of Mountains and Seas
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