This Weekend: Full of Family Fun, Inaugural New-Year’s Opera Opens at Asia Society

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox
This Weekend: Full of Family Fun, Inaugural New-Year’s Opera Opens at Asia Society

SATURDAY HERALDED THE 2024 Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year. Based on the lunar calendar’s cycles of the moon, with years instead of months aligned to the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, it is a time for family reunions, delicious meals, and leaving behind the detritus in our lives to make room for new beginnings.

This weekend, to help ring in the Year of the Wood Dragon, the Houston Grand Opera, and Asia Society Texas present the world premiere of The Big Swim, a one-act, fun, family-friendly opera created by composer Meilina Tsui and librettist Melisa Tien that retells the legend of a great race between the animals of the Chinese zodiac calendar. The Big Swim runs Feb. 16-18 at Asia Society Texas. Like Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, The Big Swim will be presented annually to coincide with Houston’s New Year celebrations.

“It’s zany, fun, and designed to leave you with a heart full of joy,” says The Big Swim’s director Mo Zhou. “It’s an experience … a rich symphony of East Asian cultures that combines the beauty of tradition with the thrill of innovation.” The thrill of innovation informs the stylistic range of Tsui’s score, which draws on opera buffa, Peking and Cantonese opera, Gregorian chants, American and Asian pop music, and modern-day animated musicals such as The Lion King. Meanwhile, Tien’s libretto brings the ancient tale (and tails) up-to-date with an emphasis on community and collaboration over first-to-cross-the-finish-line competition.

Tsui and Tien's first visit to Houston was in 2022, around the time of the Lunar New Year, and both were surprised by the range of homegrown New Year festivities, as well as the cultural and ethnic diversity of the city. “We did everything from exploring the temples to going out for dim sum,” said Tien in an interview with Opera Cues. “I remember coming back from that trip and going, ‘That city is so cool!’ I had no idea.”

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