Directed by Andrei Serban
Design by Sally Jacobs
Choreography by Kate Flatt

The production was originally created and directed in a ground breaking, integrated style when first shown in 1984. It opened the Royal Opera’s season at the Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles to rave reviews. Apart from the numerous revivals at Covent Garden, it has also been seen in Los Angeles, Seoul, Tokyo, Parma, Cagliari, Lisbon, Bologna, Madrid and Washington DC.

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Set in a legendary China, the choreography for the ten masked dancers draws on the T’ai chi Chuan, martial arts and Western contemporary dance. The singing roles of Ping, Pang and Pong are enhanced by their action and gesture in the style of Commedia del Arte, which refers back to Carlo Gozzi’s original story. A group of masked actors are also integral to the staging with the singers and dancers. The working process of making the choreography for the original production was unusual. I worked with the dancers for ten days before Serban arrived, devising dance material and sequences which were then used in the staging of the work. There is a seamless, organic nature to the production which is very special. and there is about an hour of choreography and movement across the whole opera. Act I is particularly strong in the way the staging dovetails together the actors, dancers and principals to tell the story. In 1984 choreologist Ann Whitley assisted me and she wrote the Benesh notation score, which has been used in all subsequent revivals. Tatiana Novaes Coelho used this Benesh score for the recent London revival when it returned once again to the Royal Opera House opening the 2013-14 season. It has been screened internationally in over 1000 cinemas. There was a superb cast and at interval presentations featured the movement element significantly.


Serban’s point is that the Forbidden City is very much in love with death; it celebrates death. And so revival director Jeremy Sutcliffe rolls out the ceremonial, exotic masked dancers caught in the sensual slow motion of Kate Flatt’s choreography, gliding like spectres across the arena of death while the populace roar their approval from the terraces of Sally Jacobs’s still striking set.
Edward Seckerson     The Independent 24.12.2008

An extremely successful feature of the production was the dancing, choreographed by Kate Flatt. The director has hereby solved a problem with opera in general and Puccini in particular, which is that there are long musical intervals in which a large discretion is left to the director to decide what is to happen on stage while they unfold. In this production dance provides the solution, and it works wonderfully well. It is an idea worth exporting generally. It interprets the music and advances matters both atmospherically and narratively, at the same time maintaining or heightening tension as needed, and holding the audience.

AC Grayling   Times Literary Supplement     June 2006

Andrei Serban’s production (revived here by Andrew Sinclair) exploits the contradictions: just as lovely music heralds the terrible rising of the moon, so dancing full of grace and charm accompanies the young, tiny King of Persia to his horrible death. Indeed, all of Kate Flatt’s choreography (ingeniously derived from tai chi) has a hypnotically chilling beauty at odds with the horrors unfolding on stage.

Stephen Richards  The Guardian September 2013

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