The Bonesetter's Daughter (opera)

The Bonesetter's Daughter is an opera in a prologue and two acts by Stewart Wallace to a libretto by Amy Tan based on her novel of the same name. It premiered on 13 September 2008 at the War Memorial Opera House of San Francisco Opera, which commissioned the work.


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 13 September 2008
Conductor: Steven Sloane
Ruth Young Kamen
LuLing as a young woman
mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao
LuLing Liu Young mezzo-soprano Ning Liang
Precious Auntie Kunju mezzo Qian Yi
Chang the Coffin Maker bass Hao Jiang Tian
Taoist Priest
Chinese folk/pop tenor Wu Tong
Art Kamen baritone James Maddalena
Arlene Kamen mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook
Marty Kamen bass-baritone Valery Portnov
Dory Kamen girl soprano Madelaine Matej
Fia Kamen girl soprano Rose Frazier
Chang's first wife soprano Mary Finch
Chang's second wife mezzo-soprano Natasha Ramirez Leland
Chang's third wife mezzo-soprano Erin Neff
Acrobats Dalian Acrobatic Troupe
Suona Wu Tong, Zuo Jicheng
Chinese percussionists Li Zhonghua, Ma Li, Nie Haijun, Jin Liang
Director Chen Shi-Zheng
Set designer Walt Spangler
Costume designer Han Feng
Lighting designer Scott Zielinski
Video designer Leigh Haas
Sound designer Mark Grey
Choreographer Wang Yuqing
Aerial choreographer Ruthy Inchaustegui
Approximate running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes including one intermission


Book cover of Amy Tan's novel

The Bonesetter's Daughter traces a Chinese-American woman's search for her own voice and identity as she grapples with her elderly mother's apparent dementia, her husband's ambivalent commitment, and her teen stepdaughters' hurtful self-absorption. Guided by a ghost of uncertain identity, she travels into the past and lives out portions of her mother's tragic youth, gaining insight, forgiveness, and strength.

The opera is set both in 1997 San Francisco, and in China and Hong Kong around the outbreak of World War II.

Shifting times and locales are linked by a recurring trio of women: American-born Ruth, a professional ghostwriter who scarcely speaks up for herself; her mother, LuLing, who appears both as a querulous old woman and as a selfish adolescent; and LuLing's childhood caretaker known as Precious Auntie, who appears both as a ghost and as the fiery young mother she once was.


  • Prologue — Dragon Dance – A timeless void
  • Act 1, scene 1 – Fountain Court Restaurant, San Francisco, 1997
  • Act 1, scene 2 – Immortal Heart, a village outside Beijing, 1930s
  • Act 2, scene 1 – Hong Kong Harbor, 1940s
  • Act 2, scene 2 – A hospital room, San Francisco, 1997

For further details, see The Bonesetter's Daughter.


The score folds authentic Chinese musical expression into an essentially Western idiom, just as the libretto incorporates Chinese themes—such as the importance of family, and the power of ghosts and lucky charms—within an American framework. That framework includes many popular references, including a wry jab at "Medicare-approved" nursing homes and reference to Ruth's profession as a ghostwriter, which her immigrant mother misconstrues literally to mean a transcriptionist for ghosts. Notably, the infamous O. J. Simpson murder trial of 1995 becomes the vehicle by which elderly LuLing remembers and narrates traumatic events from her adolescence in China, which are revealed as the crux of her conflicts with her daughter.


  • "Cast and synopsis". San Francisco Opera. 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2008.
  • Kosman, Joshua (15 September 2008). "Opera review: 'Bonesetter's Daughter'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 September 2008. (review )
  • Tommasini, Anthony (15 September 2008). "3 Generations of Chinese Women Find Voice in Opera". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 September 2008. (review )
  • Stewart Wallace: The Bonesetter's Daughter