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The Orphan of Zhao (MP3s)

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    Strange Powers, the documentary that offers an intimate portrait of Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, is now available on DVD. Special features include previously unreleased deleted scenes of the band in the studio, on tour, and backstage; official music videos; the official film trailer; and a commentary track with Merritt and band member Claudia Gonson. The New York Daily News gives the film four stars, calling Merritt "one of the greatest American songwriters to emerge in the last two decades."

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About this Album

The evil Tu An-Gu and the kindly Zhao Shuo were rival courtiers in the kingdom of Jin. Tu tried to have Zhao killed, but the assassin he hired committed suicide rather than choose between disobeying orders and killing an honest man. With the help of the serf Ling Zhe, who he had saved from starvation, Zhao fled into exile. His son Zhao Dun received a letter demanding his suicide, forged by Tu-An Gu in the name of the Emperor; he stabbed himself. His wife, the Emperor’s daughter, gave birth to a son. Ten days later, the play begins…

The princess calls for the family doctor, Cheng Ying, to take the newborn out of the house before Tu An-Gu kills him too. Cheng agrees, convincing her to strangle herself (while singing “In This Rain …”) to avoid revealing the baby’s whereabouts under torture. At the gate, Cheng Ying meets General Han Jue, who has been assigned by Tu An-Gu to guard the baby (“Has the World Gone Insane?”). The general takes one look at the orphan (“Han Jue Sings a Lullaby”) and agrees to stab himself rather than imperil an innocent infant. Cheng Ying celebrates the honorable death (“All of This I Give You”). In the winter garden at Tai Ping, the good doctor finds retired sage Gongsun Chu-Jiu, and shows him the baby (“Gongsun Sings a Lullaby”). Gongsun offers to swap the Orphan with Cheng Ying’s own ten-day-old son, to bring to Tu-An Gu, who will surely kill both Gongsun and the baby. Gongsun recites a poem of nostalgia, “Little Clouds Go By.” Cheng Ying reports to Tu An-Gu that Gongsun is hiding the Orphan, and Tu kills the tiny imposter, Cheng’s son, whereupon Gongsun impales himself on the murderer’s sword, singing “In the Spring, When I Was Young.” In gratitude, Tu An-Gu offers to adopt Cheng Ying’s son (really the Orphan), chortling, “What a Fucking Lovely Day!”

Twenty years later, Cheng Ying reveals to the Orphan all of the above, calling Tu-An Gu “the man in red,” Zhao Shuo “the man in purple,” and Cheng Ying himself “Someone.” He eulogizes the assassin in “The Song of the Assassin,” and Ling Zhe in “The Song of the Humble Serf.” He tells of Zhao Shuo’s flight into exile in “The Man in Purple Dashed Out of the Castle,” and details everything we’ve seen on stage in  “The Story So Far,” finally telling the Orphan of his true identity. The Orphan swears to avenge his clan (“The World Is Not Made of Flowers”). He kills Tu-An Gu, and the play ends.

The original Orphan of Zhao was written by Yuan Dynasty playwright Ji Juanxiang, circa 1330. This production was originally produced by the Lincoln Center Festival and Lincoln Center Theater, New York City. World-premiered at Lincoln Center Festival, July 2003. Directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, book by David Greenspan, music and lyrics by Stephin Merritt.


Jenny Bacon: Princess, Cheng Bo (Orphan)
Rob Campbell: Cheng Ying
David Patrick Kelly: Tu An-Gu
William Yeomans: Han Jue, Gongsun Chu-Jiu

Cory McAbee: Autoharp
Wei Guo Yong: Jinghu
Min Xiao-Fen: Pipa

Musical Director: Kimberly Grigsby

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