'The Rift,' A New Opera by Professor David Henry Hwang, to Premiere in March 2022

Angeline Dimambro
February 23, 2022

Associate Professor David Henry Hwang’s new opera, The Rift, will premiere as a part of the Washington National Opera’s Written in Stone program for the Kennedy Center’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Written in Stone, which will run March 5–25, 2022, seeks to explore the stories our monuments tell, the legacies they embody, and the memories they cement. Inspired by Washington D.C.’s iconic monuments and the ideals embodied by President Kennedy, Written in Stone is a series of interwoven short works presented together in a single evening. The program will feature four world premieres from some of the most renowned and exciting artists working today.

Hwang collaborated with creative partner and award-winning composer Huang Ruo for The Rift. The piece takes its title from a phrase used by artist and architect Maya Lin in her original description of her proposed deisgn for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as “a rift in the earth.” It is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial which is at the heart of the piece. The RIft dives into the memorial’s controversial origin, featuring interconnected yet conflicting characters: Maya Lin, the Chinese American student architect of the memorial’s design; a Vietnam War veteran; a Vietnamese refugee; and a government official. Hwang penned the libretto for The Rift while Ruo served as composer. The two have previously collaborated on M. Butterfly and An American Soldier.

The Rift is one of four short, interwoven works that compose the Written in Stone program. Others include: Chantal from Jason Moran and Alicia Hall Moran, Rise from Kamala Sankaram and A.M. Homes, and it all falls down from Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Carlos Simon. Together, the program offers distinct, intimate stories that not only celebrate diversity, but also acknowledge the struggles of today’s America.

Hwang appeared in conversation with Ruo and other select artists from the Written in Stone program for Works & Process, the Guggenheim’s event series that is dedicated to the performing arts. 

“Those of us of a certain age remember both the debate and the controversy over the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the way it served as a proxy for so much contentiousness, division, and polarization in our country at that time,” Hwang said during the event. “I have known Maya Lin for years, and I felt this would be a great opportunity to explore all the different contradictions that went into the creation of this monument, and how it is actually a very positive story—it is a piece of art that has ended up helping to heal a divided nation.” The evening also featured performance excerpts from The Rift as well as Rise. Watch the complete event here.

The Rift will run March 5–25, 2022 at the Eisenhower Theater. Click here for ticket information.

David Henry Hwang is a Tony Award winner and three-time nominee, a three-time OBIE Award winner, and a three-time Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. He is the recipient of two GRAMMY Awards and also co-wrote the Gold Record Solo with the late pop star Prince. Currently, he serves as Chair of the American Theatre Wing, which founded the Tony Awards and presents the OBIE Awards. Hwang’s works for stage include M. ButterflyChinglishYellow FaceKung FuGolden ChildThe Dance and the Railroad, and FOB, as well as the Broadway musicals Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida (co-author), Flower Drum Song (2002 revival), and Disney’s Tarzan. He was a Writer and Consulting Producer for the Golden Globe-winning television series The Affair. His screenplays include PossessionM. Butterfly, and Golden Gate. He is an Associate Professor, and current head of Playwriting, in the Theatre Program at Columbia University.