So, Eole and Gianni, Butterfly Lovers. Who are they?
E: So, the butterfly lovers – it’s a Chinese legend, so when I talk about the story you are going to think Mulan from Disney and you’re going to think Romeo and Juliet.
Some good reference points.
E: Yeah, pretty fun! So this is the story of Yu Zhu Yingtai who is high-born in China. Normally the story takes place in the Gin dynasty, that’s about 280AD. She is a high-born and she wants to go to school because she loves reading and she loves learning in general. For a woman, at the time it is not possible because schools are for boys only. So she doesn’t want to stay at home, learning sewing, music or female things so she says: “I’m going – bye”. She has an argument with her father and then she runs away during the night, dressed as a man – as a scholar. She “borrows” one of her brother’s uniforms and she runs away like that. On the way to school, she meets Liang Shanbo who is also new to the school, to Hanzu. I took the idea of butterflies and I tried to keep it from beginning to end. There’s that argument around – Should I take a butterfly and pin it on the wall to be able to study it better? Or should I just study it the way he is? Flying, dancing around the flowers and try to draw it? So Yingtai is teaching Shanbo how to draw; how to paint. So there’s a song here and then they arrive at Hanzu the school and they exchange their paintings and this is a way of saying: “you are my brother now”. Obviously, Shanbo thinks that Yingtai is a man. So they are brothers now and they take care of each other for three years in Hanzu. There’s an archery class that goes wrong so their relationship evolves whilst they are at school. Then they finish school so this is when Yingtai reveals her sex for the first time.
This is a big thing. In the end, obviously, they die because it is a tragedy. But I didn’t want them to die in a very tragic way, in the Romeo and Juliet way because it would be very heavy for that kind of story and it wouldn’t go with the rest of the story so they are going to find each other again in death and dance forever.
It is a beautiful story, no doubt but why a Chinese Legend?
E: In the beginning, I wasn’t the writer of this project, it is a project that was initiated by the producer who is Chinese. So it was at the beginning of this year of 2018, she was supposed to present fifteen minutes of this show and this is six days before the presentation the writer dropped out, she quit the project and she hadn’t written anything. So the producer came to me and she told me “I need a writer, I really need you right now”.
I wrote a part of the book and the songs, then I worked with Gianni for the arrangements and the modifications that had to happen in terms of music and melody and then we had to put it on stage to
So, Gianni, you’re the composer?
She is doing the songwriting and the book. She gives me a draft with lyrics. Which is a great way of working because most composers are getting the lyrics and then writing the melody or doing both but I get the musical inspiration and the background and then try to arrange into a way that sounds like musical theatre. At the same time, I’m trying to create ways for it to sound Chinese and form that into musical theatre.
Does that provide you with more freedom?
I find it great because I understand her ideas and we communicate a lot which helps. I’m really trying to leave the more traditional songwriting part to Eole. Initially, I was supposed to create the melodies to but this way is less stressful and we’re saving time.
It’s a process of translation too.
On a musical front, you have a Chinese legend are you embedding the music and the story in the Chinese setting or have you transposed it to a more fantastical setting.
E: I think it’s going to feel more fantastical. Only the dramaturg is Chinese so I think we’re all bringing a different part of our own culture. Also, we’re writing for a western audience. We have to adapt. It is going to happen in China but not in the Gin Dynasty.
G: One of the songs is a French waltz too so you feel combination that in the music too.
I’m not a musician but I imagine it’s a challenge to retain those elements of identity in music whilst trying to combine international influences.
G: Eole cited Mulan and all our music is similar to Disney in the way it combines identity.
There is a piece called the butterfly lovers which is very famous in China and I listened to this and tried to get inspiration and really understand that identity.
Do you think that, as creatives of differing international heritage, there are bits of those heritages in the show?
E: Of course.
G: I love China and I studied Chinese medicine and even speak a little Chinese. The way we explain Chinese music is in a way that hopefully, everyone can understand.
Thanks for taking the time, we’re really looking forward to the show.