The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci

The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci

A Digital Opera in 7 Acts

“The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci is an intriguing footnote of how Zuni reads and interprets cultural exchange between the East and the West, and the Otherness in a faraway country.”
– Wen Wei Po (2010)

“The Memory of Palace of Matteo Ricci draws pictures of Matteo Ricci’s wearying maritime journey, his challenging missionary work in the Far East, and his exemplary perseverance and unlimited faith. Mathias Woo, the director, arranges layers of contents with actors, light and shadow , installation, and live music.”
– Performing Arts Review (2010)

  • The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci

    In 2010, in commemorate of the 400th anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, Zuni produced a digital opera in 7 acts “The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci” – adapted from the book of the same title by Jonathan Spence. By integrating elements including opera , contemporary music, puppetry, and projection, the performance reveals the legend of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest, who came to the Ming Dynasty China in the late 16th century for missionary work by teaching the Chinese the Western art of memory and learn Chinese culture as a foreigner. The Far East is undoubtedly a heterotopia to Matteo Ricci; the production team borrowed the St. Ignatius Chapel as the performance venue and the embodiment of heterotopia, to create a memory palace transcending time, space, and culture. The opera is directed by Mathias Woo, with Diana Liao as the librettist. The music is composed by Steve Hui (aka Nerve) and performed by the internationally acclaimed basso cantante Tian Hao Jiang as Matteo Ricci. St eve Hui challenges the musical nature of opera, electronic music, human vocal, and computer-generated vocal. Matteo Ricci is the pioneer of cultural exchange between the East and the West; the music in the opera also shows qualities of the two cultures with the juxtaposition of Western and Eastern musical instruments – including the piano, the viola, the sheng, the dongxiao, and more – to resonate with the story of cultural exchange.

    Today, with the advancement in technology, interactions between cultures and even theatrical performances are no longer restricted by geographical boundaries as they were in the times of Matteo Ricci. Let’s revisit the late 16th Century’s cultural exchange journey on Zuni YouTube channel “ZLive”.

  • Matteo Ricci is an Italian Jesuit priest who went on mission first to India then to China in the 16th century. He started learning Chinese in Macao in 1582 and moved to Beijing in 1601, where he presented himself at the imperial court of Wanli. With his skills on mnemonic art as well as that of science and mathematics, he brought these skills to Chinese scholars and elites, in the same time preaching Christianity.

  • The Author

    Jonathan D. Spence, Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, is the award-winning author of a unique body of work on Chinese history and culture, including The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, The Search for Modern China (a New York Times bestseller) and Mao, A Biography. He also co-authored with Annping Chin Chinese Century: A Photographic History of the Last Hundred Years. In 2004-2005 he was President of the American Historical Association. He gave the BBC Reith lectures in 2008 on their 60th anniversary.

    Memory Palace

    A “Memory Palace” is the name given to a memory system built on spatial relationships and mental images. The technique was used by the ancient Greeks long before printing and books became popular. In the Middle Ages, the use of mnemonics was restricted to religious practice for keeping a memory record of good and bad deeds. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century philosopher and theologian, pointed out that a memory system was conducive to ethics and strengthened the devotion of religious followers. In the 16th century, Matteo Ricci started to teach Chinese people how to construct a “Memory Palace” through mnemonic techniques. This memory system requires that we give an image to everything we wish to remember and assign a position where each image can be stored and later reclaimed. The place where the images are stored is an imaginal dimension of our mind in which the mental constructs are interconnected to form a “Memory Palace”. When something needs to be recalled, we simply make a tour of the “Memory Palace” to find the required item.

  • The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci is one of Spence’s award-winning works. Rather than following a chronological account of events, as most historical writings do, he adopts the image framework of the “memory palace” created by Matteo Ricci. Through the use of eight images consisting of four Chinese characters and four engravings of biblical stories, Spence unfolds the exceptional missionary adventures of Matteo Ricci in China. The book contains rich, detailed accounts of the Ming Dynasty China as well as vivid descriptions of a time of clash between western and eastern civilizations in the late 16th century.

    “Spence very cleverly constructed Ricci’s life around seven chapters, respecting the time-honoured number 7 in ancient architecture and philosophy. Mathias and I both found his choice of images and parables so effective and innovative that we decided to adopt the same format throughout the opera , adding a Prologue and an Epilogue for dramatic cohesion. It will be a 90-minute opera with multimedia components.”
    – Diana Liao, librettist

  • “Interactive dialogues between electronic music and traditional opera offer ample room for dialectical exchanges, both as a challenge and reaction to established forms of musical expressions and as an inspiration for us to test the limits of crossing over and enriching two totally different disciplines.”
    – Steve Hui (Nerve) Composer

    “With computer generated voices, the musical focus can be effectively shifted to Matteo Ricci. Also, the composition is not limited with the vocal range and timre of human voices.”
    – Leon Chu (2010). a.m. post.

  • Creative Team

    Cast: TIAN Hao Jiang (Bass) as Matteo Ricci
    Composer: Steve HUI Ngo-shan
    Librettist: Diana LIAO
    Producer / Director / Designer: Mathias WOO
    Conductor: Manuel NAWRI (Berlin)
    Guest Performer: Takao KAWAGUCHI (Tokyo, Japan) as Slave, Indian Attendant, Muslims, Beggar
    Puppetry Production: Fantasy Puppet, The Puppet and Its Double Theater (Taipei)
    Puppetry Design and performance: CHENG Chia-yin, LIU Yu-jane, CHEN Ying-ching (Taipei)
    Puppetry Paper Sculpture Design: WANG Chung-cheng (Taipei)
    Costume Designer: William CHANG Suk-ping
    Digital Images: Tobias GREMMLER (Munich)
    Illustration Artist: LI Chi-tak
    Live Music Performance: Hong Kong New Music Ensemble

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