The Tale of Lady Thi Kinh is an engrossing new opera based on an ancient Vietnamese story whose universal truths about family and community continue to have meaning. The outstanding production merits a trip to the Musical Arts Center on the IU Campus in Bloomington; it plays Feb. 7-8 and 14-15, and this review is based on a Feb. 6 dress rehearsal.
Retold and composed by P.Q. Phan, the story unfolds and expands from the straightforward Vietnamese version, its music intertwining Eastern and Western styles while retaining its original integrity. Phan deftly draws us in and keeps us engaged in the story of a beautiful young woman whose initially idyllic life is ruined when her husband unjustly accuses her of attempting to murder him.
The story journeys from secular into religious life when Thi Kin determines she must seek a new path toward a righteous outcome. I won't spoil your experience by revealing too much, but expect to layer your own worldview on the choices made by Thi Kinh and the way others treat her.
Excellent singing and acting bring to life a cast of memorable characters, including three main female characters who represent differing views of womanhood. Humor and pathos intermingle in a down-to-earth depiction of a society whose rigid norms of behavior can be twisted and turned to unfairly harm others or, as in the case of Thi Kinh, to pursue and attain the path toward Buddhahood through "the beauty of love, compassion and selflessness."
With its touchingly composed and sung duets during the second act, this first-of-its kind operatic retelling of Our Benevolent Buddha Thị Kính, The Tale of Lady Thi Kinh can be compared with a finely cut gemstone whose beauty reveals itself through the eye of the beholder.