New opera showcases the Tacoma method


Historical events have inspired operas throughout the centuries. Whether based purely on facts or written with an artistic license, this art form offers a unique format for education and awareness when it comes to exploring chapters in the annals of human history. .

One such opera was written at a time in Tacoma’s history when its Chinese residents were rounded up and forcibly evicted in 1885. The incident came to be known as the “Tacoma Method” for its apparent avoidance of making mistakes. physical damage, but this term is misleading in its inability to expose the mental and emotional damage that deportation caused to its victims. So is the foundation of the opera also titled “Tacoma Method” by Greg Youtz and Zhang Er.

To tell this disturbing story, librettist Zhang Er highlights an individual swept away by the mob-led exodus – an anonymous woman who suffered such trauma that she was never the same again.

“I felt I needed to animate the stage with a woman for the opera because as a border town most of the people were men,” said Zhang Er. “As I wrote, I realized that she was the main heroine. She and the mayor of Tacoma were opponents of each other for opera.

It was then Mayor Jacob Weisbach and other city leaders who organized and carried out the eviction, with Father Peter Hylebos and Ezra Meeker bravely defending the Chinese. These historical figures are featured in the Tacoma Method opera, which begins with Chinese residents of Tacoma inviting them and others to a Chinese New Year banquet by the water’s edge. At this point, the Chinese were unaware that white supremacist tensions were already simmering and soon boiling due to agitation from union organizers who wanted to get rid of the Chinese whom they saw as strikebreakers working for the capitalists for a period of time. economic downturn at the time.

Seeking the expulsion to write the story and lyrics of Tacoma Method, Zhang Er said she did not anticipate all of the factors that played out in this period 120 years ago.

“Most surprising to me was how widespread support for discrimination was. It was fully engaged by the whole city with a few exceptions. It wasn’t a few bad apples. It was a general atmosphere in the years. 1880, “she said.

Going through a multitude of documents and information, Zhang Er drew much of the opera’s lyrics directly from speeches and newspaper articles from this period.

“I didn’t try to soften or exaggerate because that’s how they spoke of the Chinese – ‘yellow peril’, ‘infectious’ and all those words,” she said. “It speaks for itself, especially the mayor. The newspaper captured every speech he gave in Tacoma and Seattle in town hall meetings and public statements.”

Youtz had previously worked with Zhang Er to write and produce the historic opera “Fiery Jade: Cai Yan” at PLU in 2016.

Composer and music professor at Pacific Lutheran University, and vice president of the Chinese Reconciliation Park Foundation, Youtz wrote the music using a selection of Western instruments that evoke the sounds of traditional Chinese instruments.

“I was predisposed to do this both because of my goal to learn more about this story, but also because it was yet another chance to work with Zhang Er and to continue experimenting with this kind of music. “he said of the reasons he continued to collaborate. Youtz had previously worked with Zhang Er to write and produce the historic opera “Fiery Jade: Cai Yan” at PLU in 2016 in which Youtz mixed three musical cultures: Chinese, Mongolian and Indian Buddhist.

Of the Tacoma Method, he said, “Everything is based as much as possible, like any historical novel, on as much understanding of the era – the economy, the culture – as possible. In this opera I also had to be bi-musical and use the same chamber orchestral instruments. Sometimes they had to sound very Chinese and sometimes they had to sound a lot like Western Frontier instruments. ”

At the start of the opera’s germination phase, the Tacoma Method was intended to be created at the Tacoma Opera House, but funding was an issue and it did not happen. Next, an aria was due to be performed at a Symphony Tacoma concert last November but was canceled due to COVID. Now he’s back in the hands of Tacoma Opera and its managing director, Noel Koran, said he couldn’t be more thrilled. The Tacoma Method is now set to be unveiled in March during Tacoma Opera’s 2022-2023 season. Quran is applying for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to have the opera performed in a way that suits the seriousness of the story.

In fact, it was Quran who first thought that the story should be presented in opera form and when he told Youtz and Zhang Er about it in 2013, they took his idea and followed it. .

“It is a story that must be told,” said Quran. “This is an opportunity for us as Tacomans to really face our past. It is my goal in this area to bring this dark part of our history to light and make people aware of it. I hope this can be a way to make us more aware of what we have done in the past and how we should behave in the future.

The end of the Tacoma Method was something Youtz and Zhang Er debated as Youtz believed to show that America has gone further since that time. and finish by recognizing the Chinese Reconciliation Park of Tacoma as an example. Zhang Er had other ideas, which Youtz agreed with.

“The widespread prejudices and fear of others are always with us,” she said. “Rather than making this story a self-congratulation that we’ve made so much progress, I would like the audience after seeing the opera to ask, ‘Are we getting corrected? What would I do if it was me. in this situation ?’ ”

For a taste of what to expect, watch a sample of the Tacoma Method on Youtube.

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