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When the Purple Mountains Burn

(in development)

  • Libretto by Julian Crouch

  • For soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, and SATB Chorus

  • Duration: 70 minutes

  • The development of When the Purple Mountains Burn received funding from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. The piano-vocal workshop was hosted by the Houston Grand Opera on Feb. 22-25, 2022.

  • Synopsis:

    Opera "When the Purple Mountains Burn" is a collaboration between composer Shuying Li and librettist, stage designer, and director Julian Crouch. The opera delves into the connection between Iris Chang and Shiro Azuma in relation to the Nanking Massacre that occurred in China during World War II. Iris Chang, an American Chinese best-selling author, wrote "The Rape of Nanking," which profoundly impacted the perception of the Second World War in Asia. After exposing these brutal truths, she fell into depression and tragically committed suicide at age 36. Shiro Azuma, on the other hand, was a Japanese soldier who openly confessed to participating in war crimes against the Chinese during World War II.

The opera examines questions of social justice and humanity: What is it within us that allows one part of humanity to mercilessly devastate another? The story intertwines the powerful message of a journalist and the deep confession of a soldier to create a universal narrative that resonates with all. The fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, narrated by Iris's mother Ying Ying, serves as a poetic device to connect the two main characters.



  • Libretto by Lila Palmer

  • For mezzo-soprano, baritone, and soprano

  • Duration: 30 minutes

  • Created under the auspices of the American Lyric Theater's Composer Librettist Development Program

  • Synopsis:

    Esme and Marcus have a marriage made stronger by their shared experience of being child adoptees from conflict zones. At the beginning of Bloodlines Marcus is concerned that his wife Esme, a case worker at an international aid agency, is hiding something from him, which she has hidden in their bedroom. After discovering Marcus searching her things, Esme confesses she has received a mysterious package at work that relates to her biological family, which she does not want to read. Marcus seems troubled by the information. At work the next day Esme’s boss at the NGO offers her a promotion, but only if Esme comes clean about her past. Esme explains she doesn’t want to know about a family or a country she never knew, but Sara insists that both she and Esme must have all the facts about Esme, to protect the charity from the possibility of scandal. Opening the envelope in Sara’s office, Esme discovers that her husband is her brother, and that their children are the product of primary incest. Returning home Esme confronts Marcus, who confesses he learned the truth several years into their marriage, but concealed it to shield her and their healthy children from the shame of their innocent mistake. Esme realizes that Marcus continues to love her both romantically and as a sister, and must decide whether she can do the same, or take apart their life together for the sake of an unwelcome truth. (By Lila Palmer)

Who Married Star Husbands


  • Libretto by Kenzie Allen

  • For soprano (with optional cast of an additional soprano and baritone)

  • Two instrumentation available: chamber orchestra (1111, 1000, percussion, piano, strings); and chamber ensemble (fl, cl, vln, vc, pno)

  • Duration: 15 minutes

  • Program notes:

    Who Married Star Husbands is a short operetta based on a Mik'maq indigenous legend of two sisters who find themselves in the world above the sky while wishing on stars. This retelling examines the bonds between siblings, the tenuous nature of relationships and marriage, and what it means to truly shine. "The river breaks and we on its banks must choose a path. Where we go could be years of ecstasy, we could be a legend of the best desire.

Three Lullabies


  • For unaccompanied SATB choir

  • Duration: 5 minutes

  • Program notes:
      "Three Lullabies" is a choral work, cast in three movements and lasting approximately 7 and a half minutes. The piece, written for SATB choir a cappella, explores a wide range of harmonic landscapes and sonic textures, transporting listeners on an enchanting journey through aural depictions of everyday experiences and timeless poetry.
      The first movement, "Downward Syllables," lasting around 3 minutes, unfolds as an intriguing exploration of descending scales. The choir navigates the intricate harmonies formed by these scales, creating an echoing cascade of tones that is both hypnotic and calming. The intertwining lines, much like a lullaby, lull the listener into a serene state of tranquility.
      The second movement, "Interlude: Dreamy Rain," provides a brief but evocative auditory snapshot of a rain shower. Lasting only a minute, it uses a combination of creative vocal techniques and imaginative syllable choices to mimic the rhythmic patter of raindrops. The choir transforms into a sonic rainstorm, the different voices representing individual droplets creating a symphony of sound that is both chaotic and harmonious.
      The final movement, "悠然见南山 [jʊ ʒæn dʒɪæn næn ʃæn]" is an aural interpretation of the famed Tang Dynasty poem, "Drinking Wine" by Tao Yuanming. Lasting approximately 3 minutes and 30 seconds, it uses the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to allow the choir to authentically sing the verses in Chinese. Here, the choir envelops listeners in warm harmonies, which serve to depict the peaceful, serene imagery and profound introspection found within Tao's poem.
      "Three Lullabies," as a whole, is not only an aural exploration but also a cultural odyssey, offering an intimate glimpse into the musical traditions, natural elements, and timeless literature of Chinese heritage.


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