(Courtesy of the Chinese Culture Center and Tim Yip Studio)

Oscar-Winning Art Director Teams With San Francisco Opera for Epic Production

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If you were a fan of the martial arts blockbuster Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (we're talking the original 2000 flick, not the lousy Netflix sequel, guys), you'll be stoked to know that the movie's art director, Tim Yip, is in town prepping for the world premier of Dream of the Red Chamber at the San Francisco Opera.


Based on a famous 18th century Qing Dynasty novel by Cao Xueqin, Dream of the Red Chamber is an episodic romance about members of the illustrious Jia clan and a tale of an heir, Bao Yu, who is caught in a love triangle between his two beautiful cousins. The story has been adapted into an opera in two acts by renowned composer Bright Sheng and Tony Award–winning playwright David Henry Hwang (of M. Butterfly fame), and will feature a cast of Asian singers, both established and emerging, including current SF Opera Adler Fellow Nian Wang as Bao Chai, and returning mezzo-soprano Yanyu Guo as Aunt Xue.


Drawing inspiration from gorgeous period clothing and architecture, Beijing-based Yip, 48, has designed stunning sets and costumes in the self-described "New Orientalist" style that won him an Oscar (and a BAFTA) for Crouching Tiger. Ensembles for the three main characters are color-coded: a rich red for Bao Yu; and jade green and ethereal white-and-gold for cousins Dai Yu and Bao Chai, respectively. Imperial guards will be outfitted in custom-embossed leather armor, and even the beggars' attire has been specially dyed with a mixture of nine colors to achieve a very specific shade of gray. You can watch nifty time-lapse videos of the SF Opera's costume-making process here and here.

A costume sketch of Princess Jia, Bao Yu's older sister.

"The whole process has been very efficient and very professional," said Yip, in a discussion at the Chinese Culture Center last weekend. "It was my first time working on an American opera, and I was surprised at how many people were involved. Forty-percent of the crew work on logistics alone!"


While designing for Dream of the Red Chamber, Yip also lent his creative vision to the English National Ballet's highly anticipated remake of Giselle, set to debut this fall, among numerous other dance and film productions in Asia, Europe, and the U.S.


"I feel freer to do whatever I want now," Yip reflects. "I want to continue working with better people, and I am. I did Dream of the Red Chamber because I felt it was very important for a Western audience to get to know the story."


Previews for Dream of the Red Chamber run September 6th through 8th throughout the Bay Area. The opera premiers on September 10th. Prepare to be blown away. // Through Sept. 29th at San Francisco Opera, War Memorial Opera House (Civic Center), sfopera.com

Yip holding a bust of one of the opera's many auxiliary characters.

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