A Night at the Chinese Opera

Scottish Opera, 2008

Credits | Reviews  ⇓


Nomination 2008 TMA Awards: Best Opera Production




Music by Judith Weir, 1987

Directed by Lee Blakeley

Stage and Costume Design by Jean-Marc Puissant

Lighting by Jenny Cane




Production Manager: Darren Joyce

Costume Supervisor: John Liddell

Images © courtesy of Scottish Opera

“Jean-Marc Puissants silk-screen set is suitably aphoristic
– a work of art in itself.”

The Financial Times


This first collaboration with director Lee Blakeley led us to explore the idea of framing a culture and a period in order to present a production relevant to a contemporary audience while preserving the core authenticity of the original work.


Judith Weir’s libretto weaves a 13th century Chinese tale into a contemporary opera composition. It develops notions of existential and physical journeys, mapping, oppression and independence. The protagonist follows a troupe of actors; their journey, and a play within a play, revealing hidden truths, driving the plot to an ever deeper understanding of the past and, eventually, allowing him to decide how to handle the present.


A semi-abstract, single set provides a frame within which metaphors, symbols and naturalistic situations can cohabitate. A medieval painting of a Chinese landscape reappears throughout the journey, in various scales and on various surfaces. The map drawn by the protagonist becomes a large silk kabuki drop guiding him towards knowledge. Medieval Chinese antics are used alongside western objects, symbols of colonialism, capitalism and firearms.


The Telegraph by Rupert Christiansen

Any reservations melted in the face of this seductively enchanting performance. (…) it is totally assured in style and execution. Jean-Marc Puissant’s simple but gorgeous designs avoid kitsch chinoiserie (…). A real treat, in sum – and I think the first-night audience was as surprised as I was at how much they relished it.


The Financial Times by Andrew Clark

Jean-Marc Puissant’s silk-screen set is suitably aphoristic – a work of art in itself. The costumes suggest a modern veneer – the Soldier’s machinegun stirs visions of Tibet – but the timeless spell is respected.


The Times by Hilary Finch

Blakeley and his designer, Jean-Marc Puissant, listen acutely to Weir’s music and respond with deft brush-strokes of image and movement. The opening dark moon, shattered jade vase and searching ray of light make the eye “see” the music: the luminous wind chords, pitched percussion and highly strung strings of Weir’s brilliantly tense evocations of a troubled China. A diagonal walkway and two towers serve for all three acts: Chao Lin’s home; the theatre stage; and the workers’ trench which becomes the quest-path to the mystical White Raven Mountain. (…) the production’s moments of visual beauty never upstage the thoughtful and detailed individual performances.


The Guardian by Andrew Clements

A tank’s gun barrel looms into view in the first few minutes of Scottish Opera’s new production of Judith Weir’s first opera, sweeping a porcelain vase to the ground. A Night at the Chinese Opera may be set in 14th-century provincial China when the country was threatened by Kublai Khan, but, as the matter-of-fact blending of historical periods and styles in Lee Blakeley’s staging (with designs by Jean-Marc Puissant) implies, repression and brutality have been constants in the country’s history.


The Opera Critic by Catriona Graham

Designer Jean-Marc Puissant has provided a semi-abstract set – a chest, Chinese vases, backcloths portraying Chinese painted landscapes, raised diagonal walkways for paths, canal-works etc. The costumes are quasi-modern. The hardest work falls to the former Actors, who form a Tai Chi chorus in the background, workers for civil engineering works as well as versatile actors in the play – part naturalistic, part shadow-play, part pantomime.


The Herald by Michael Tumelty

Jean-Marc Puissant’s economic designs (…) were consistent with Blakeley’s drive for clarity.