The opera “Tacoma Method” deals with the violent expulsion of the Chinese population in Tacoma in 1885



Hai Ting Chinn caught in Tacoma Method video production. Courtesy of Grégory Youtz

Tacoma Method, the benign-sounding name of a complete new opera composed by Gregory Youtz on a libretto by Zhang Er, actually refers to a much more violent period in Tacoma’s history. In 1885, the mayor and prominent citizens of Tacoma decided that they had a “Chinese problem” and on November 3, 1885, they chose to forcibly evict their Chinese community at gunpoint, calling it. “Tacoma method” action of creating a white city in what was then Washington territory.

Youtz and Er’s new opera is the result of several years of collaboration. “Around 2014, the new director of Tacoma opera house, Mr. Noel Koran, heard about the story of the Chinese expulsion of 1885 and thought it would make a good opera for school students,” Youtz remembers. “He wrote a grant, but didn’t receive any funds, so it was put aside.”

But Er was fascinated by the history of the Chinese community in Tacoma. “Greg approached me in the spring of 2014 about a possible collaboration project with Tacoma Opera, regarding the episode of expulsion of the Chinese from Tacoma in 1885,” she said. “I felt that the story had to portray humanity, what the Chinese have in common with all the other migrants who came to the west coast of the United States.”

Er and Youtz knew the partnership would be fruitful as they had already created an opera together after meeting ten years ago. “I lectured at Evergreen State College around 2011 on my many pieces that use influences from Chinese culture, and Zhang Er was in the audience,” Youtz said. “She told me about operas and their libretto that she had written out of curiosity.

Excerpt from the April broadcast of Symphony Tacoma of the conversation between the creators of the video production of “The Tacoma Method”. Photo courtesy of Greg Youtz.

For his part, Er appreciated the content of Youtz’s lecture. “I was impressed by his interest, the depth of research that has been done into the history and aesthetics of his music,” she said. “It is accessible from either side of the Eastern and Western soundscapes, but it is unique and stimulating in its nuance and complicity. “

It was by chance for Er that Youtz was open to new opportunities. “I started working on a complete new libretto on the legendary Han Dynasty Chinese poet, Cai Yan, who was also a musician,” Er said. “I presented Greg this second booklet, Burning Jade: Cai Yan as a possible collaborative project.

The Lutheran University of the Pacific, Youtz’s employer, agreed to create the new work. The duo therefore completed the opera and performed it in 2016. “I would speak through a stage, because the words on the page can be short and poetic, for the underlying emotional currents are in the audience’s imagination. and for the music to induce and increase, ”Er said. “Greg would design and compose the music, then I would listen and comment.”

They followed a similar creative practice to Tacoma Method. “It’s a chance that Zhang Er knows opera very well and that I spent 30 years studying Chinese culture,” Youtz said. “She has an excellent sense of what and how much information needs to be in a booklet and of course her work as a poet, mostly in Chinese, gives her English words a real peculiarity.”

Opera has been a way for Er to explore her deepest interests since 2010. “I love stories and I love human voices, because those are the two things that touch my being deepest”, a she declared. “So opera, for me, is the ultimate art form for reaching people and transforming the mind. “

And she finds Tacoma’s story relevant despite the 135 years that have passed since the violent expulsion of the Chinese community. “The story is relevant in today’s world precisely because we always face the dilemma when we meet people from different cultures with different looks, worldview, religion and eating practices than we do.” , she said. “Do we fight them, tolerate them, learn from them, find our common humanity and celebrate them? “

After studying the history of this event in depth, Er finally based his libretto on the history of one family. “After months of going through books and documents, I came across Mr. Lum May’s affidavit of what happened on November 3, 1885,” she said. “I was struck by his account of how his wife went mad after being manhandled by rioters who broke into their home to physically evict Chinese residents. This account struck a chord.

May’s story went beyond words. “I felt the raw feeling and the living presence of the ancestors who came to Tacoma 100 years earlier,” Er said. “I knew we had a drama now, rather than just a history lesson or a social justice preach.”

Uh concentrated several songs in Tacoma Method on the role of Ms. Lum May, and recruited soprano Hai-Ting Chinn for the role. “I had worked with librettist Zhang Er in the past, on a piece called Moon in the mirror, a modern reflection on the myth of the female moon deity, and was very excited when she suggested me for the role of Ms. May, ”Chinn said. “I consider myself to be from the Pacific Northwest, having grown up near Eureka, California, a town mentioned in the Tacoma Method booklet as another place from which the Chinese were expelled in the 19th century.

Chinn knew its cultural history, but found Tacoma’s history to be a surprise. “Like so much we learned over the past year about the depths of racism in American history,” she said, “this iconic event deserves to be remembered.”

And that sentiment of Er and Chinn aligns with Youtz’s mission to compose in the service of social and cultural ideas that need to be discussed. “I’m drawn to big, serious ideas that too often go unaddressed in classical music, often because broadcasting organizations assume their audiences don’t want politics or even serious social issues at their concerts,” he said. he declared. “So my challenge is to write articles on serious topics that engage audiences in ways they hadn’t thought of before. “

This is also a challenge for Er, because in addition to being a writer, she also sees herself as a cultural playwright. “Most of my work involves crossing borders, cultural, linguistic, musical, gender, life and death, species borders, which is inherently a messy endeavor, experimental trial and error,” a she declared. “In opera, music, performance and staging carry more weight than mere words and even intrigue. A playwright is the invisible glue to hold it together and offer it to the public as a whole.

A 40-minute program of extracts from Tacoma Method Originally scheduled to be performed by Symphony Tacoma, but has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is now rescheduled for the 2022-2023 season when audiences are hopefully back in the auditoriums,” Youtz said. “The full staged opera, written for chamber orchestra, is not yet scheduled for production, so any band wanting a world premiere can let us know!”

In the meantime, viewers can participate in a conversation between Er, Youtz, and Chinn, as well as clips from performances by Tacoma Method recorded and featured on YouTube.

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