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Chinatown Opera Theater in North America

The transformation of Chinese music into American music in the early twentieth century

The Chinatown opera house provided Chinese immigrants with an essential source of entertainment during the pre–World War II era. But its stories of loyalty, obligation, passion, and duty also attracted diverse patrons into Chinese American communities

Drawing on a wealth of new Chinese- and English-language research, Nancy Yunhwa Rao tells the story of iconic theater companies and the networks and migrations that made Chinese opera a part of North American cultures. Rao unmasks a backstage world of performers, performance, and repertoire and sets readers in the spellbound audiences beyond the footlights. But she also braids a captivating and complex history from elements outside the opera house walls: the impact of government immigration policy; how a theater influenced a Chinatown's sense of cultural self; the dissemination of Chinese opera music via recording and print materials; and the role of Chinese American business in sustaining theatrical institutions. The result is a work that strips the veneer of exoticism from Chinese opera, placing it firmly within the bounds of American music and a profoundly American experience.

"Comprehensively conceived, exhaustively researched, and clearly written, Rao’s book is an extraordinary achievement documenting a unique musical and theatrical genre in North American history. Showing how border crossing enriches the cultural tapestry of this land, it is a must-read for those interested in American music, theater, and social history."--Bell Yung, coeditor of Music and Cultural Rights

Publication supported by grants from the AMS 75 PAYS Endowment of the American Musicological Society, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and from the Li Man-Kuei Fund for Chinese Performing Arts of the Chinese Performing Arts Foundation.

Nancy Yunhwa Rao is a professor of music at Rutgers University.

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