Chinese-born Du Yun wins Pulitzer for opera on human trafficking

Chinese-born composer wins Pulitzer for music

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 7:24am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 7:24am

Chinese-born composer Du Yun won the Pulitzer Prize for music on Monday for “Angel’s Bone,” an experimental opera that explores the psychology behind human trafficking.

The one-act opera, which premiered last year at New York’s Prototype festival, takes place in a non-descript American suburb but is filled with spiritual symbolism.

“Mr. and Mrs. X.E.,” riven by marital strife and financial problems, enslave and victimise a pair of angels who stumble upon the property.

The music reinforces the unsettling plot with a loud electronic beat set to a chamber orchestra and choir. At the premiere, one of the angels was played by Jennifer Charles, the singer of New York dream rock band Elysian Fields.

Du Yun, who was born in China and came to the United States legally, said that she wrote the opera in part out of frustration on the lack of understanding of immigration.

“People talk about the immigrants and have this idea that this is bad, we don’t want them in, ‘why don’t they just get legal,’ or build a wall,” she said in an interview ahead of the premiere, months before Donald Trump’s election on an anti-immigration platform.

She hoped her opera would show another side -- that even native-born people can behave in ways they did not expect.

“If we are given the opportunity to make profit, then maybe we are not so different from each other,” she said. “I think the dark psychology of human beings is very interesting as an artist.”

Du Yun frequently works with video artists and has written another opera that touches metaphorically on immigration, “Zolle,” about a woman caught between death and the afterlife.

Her works also include music for a 2009 theatrical take on the classic French film “Hiroshima Mon Amour.”

“Angel’s Bone” features a libretto by Royce Vavrek, who has also worked on modern operas including “JFK” on the Kennedy assassination and an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s bleak movie “Breaking the Waves.”