by Patricia Grandjean
Jun 27, 2012
08:07 AM
Box Office

Q&A Exclusive: David Henry Hwang


(page 4 of 5)

Another superlative I've seen about you is that you're the most-produced living opera librettist.

Yes, which is sort of like being the best horse-shoer. It's frankly a 19th-century profession.

So what about that form attracts you? Because librettos are certainly a different kind of animal.

They are. Honestly, it's probably due to the fact that way back, 28 years ago or so—when I was working on M. Butterfly—I'd hear so much Puccini in rehearsal I really got to like it. I was raised as an instrumentalist, playing violin, but I didn't grow up with a lot of operatic music. So then I learned more about it, and Philip Glass asked me to do a couple of shows with him, and I suddenly became someone who had "experience" writing opera libretti, and I got further offers. So at this point, I have that kind of side line.

It's interesting to note that one of your librettos is for an opera version of David Cronenberg's The Fly.

[Composer] Howard Shore and I have known each other for a while. He's been screen composer for David's films for some time, including for the movie David made of M. Butterfly. He's probably best known for having scored The Lord of the Rings movies.

Anyway, he was looking to do an opera, so we got together and started kicking around ideas. He said, "I always wanted to do an opera based on The Fly." I thought that was a great idea, but it's a source nobody else uses—and no one expects operas to come from science fiction. At the same time, David's movie is so philosophical and Kafkaesque, and very much about operatic subjects: love and sex and death, essentially. So I thought it would be really fun to do as an opera.

Did it stay true to the spirit of the movie?

I thought it did; and then David directed the stage version, so . . .

There are a bunch of other pending projects you seem to be attached to, but I don't know where any of them stand. Is the movie White Frog coming out this year?

That's an indie movie I was an executive producer on. And I play a little part. It premiered at the San Francisco International Asian American film festival earlier this year. I think it'll get wider distribution, but it doesn't have it yet.

What about the musical Pretty Dead Girl?

That I'm still attached to, and we wrote a draft of it. We haven't been able to get anyone to really bite on it. We're still hoping it'll find a home.

Where or When?

That is, essentially, a dance show that's being put together by the choreographer Chris Frickatelli—he asked a dozen playwrights to write a 10-minute scenario for a dance. So, I've wrtten my contribution and they're trying to pull that together.

Daughter of Shanghai?

That I don't want to talk about right now, because we're in the middle of some contractual things and I don't know how it's going to turn out.

I did an interview with Aimee Mann recently, and she told me you're collaborating on The Forgotten Arm.

That we've been a little bit public about, so we can talk about that. Yes, we've had a few meetings and I've done a few rounds of a treatment, and we're close to the first draft stage now.

She had said she wanted to write more songs in the classic musical theater tradition.

Aimee such a great craftsman, so diligent and hard-working. She really wants to create a lot of new material, and write for the musical theater, as opposed to pop stars who just take their songs and turn them into a jukebox musical. So far, it's a really satisfying collaboration.

Q&A Exclusive: David Henry Hwang

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Box Office is your guide to entertainment across Connecticut, courtesy of senior editor Pat Grandjean. If it's a chat with an actor or actress, previewing a new play at a regional theater, the latest on a state celebrity's new movie, or recommendations for seeing and doing, let Box Office be one of your hubs.

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