Journey of the Bonesetter’s Daughter
Journey of the Bonesetter’s Daughter follows the creation of the San Francisco Opera’s celebrated production of The Bonesetter’s Daughter, composed by Stewart Wallace with a libretto by bestselling novelist Amy Tan. Based on Tan’s book of the same name, the opera is an ambitious, cross-cultural tour de force that brings together artists from China and the U.S. to tell the deeply moving story of Tan’s family history.
The opera opens at a birthday party in Chinatown. Ruth, a young Chinese-American woman, has organized the celebration for her aging mother, Luling. But the party disintegrates when Luling launches into a delusional tirade, an early sign of her Alzheimer’s disease. During her outburst, Luling reveals a secret she has guarded since childhood, prompting Ruth to begin a journey of discovery about her mother and grandmother’s past.
The making of the opera spans two continents and artistic traditions. Opera director Chen Shi-Zheng recruits virtuoso acrobats from China and uses lush video projections to add new dimensions of visual drama. Stewart Wallace’s score integrates a Western orchestra with Chinese musicians performing on traditional instruments.
The film captures in cinema vérité style the creative and technical challenges of mounting a new work, one with high emotional and artistic stakes. Tan and Chen struggle to reconcile their divergent interpretations of her autobiographical story. The Chinese and western musicians collaborate despite their vastly different musical training. Tensions rise during daily rehearsals involving hundreds of singers and stagehands, as changes are made until moments before the curtain rises.
Journey of the Bonesetter’s Daughter shows the power of art to engage, inspire and transform. For Tan, the opera gives the ghosts of her past a voice and redeems her family’s painful sacrifices. Likewise, the opera’s pageantry and emotional intensity allows audiences to connect with its universal themes.
Executive Producer: Fawn Ring
A co-production of Outlier Films, LLC, the Center for Asian American Media, the Independent Television Service, and KQED San Francisco, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, John and Cynthia Gunn, and the Shenson Foundation.