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Zheng tells the story of San Francisco mezzo-soprano and Adler Fellow, Zheng Cao, whose tragic death at the age of 46 after a four-year battle with lung cancer impacted much of the opera world. In this story, Zheng’s opera roles come to life: Cherubino and Suzuki interact with Zheng, guiding her, goading her, and caring for her. In facing her illness, Zheng conjures these allies, and in doing so, finds parts of herself. Her unyielding spirit leads her to find love and purpose even as she faces death.


Photography of Zheng Cao by John F. Martin


Duration: Approximately 100 minutes


1 flute, 1 oboe, 1 clarinet, 1 bassoon, 1 horn, 1 trumpet, 1 trombone, 1 piano, 1 harp, 1 timpani + 3 percussionists (crotales, marimba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, side drums, chimes), Strings: at least 2 violin, 1 viola,1 cello, 1 bass, 1 electric bass guitar


Zheng: mezzo-soprano

Elaine, Zheng’s best friend: soprano

Dan, Zheng’s sister: soprano

Mitchell, famous composer and Zheng's friend: tenor

David (Dr. Larson), Zheng’s doctor and love interest: bass
Lula de Santos, famous opera singer and Zheng’s mentor: mezzo-soprano

Cherubino, character from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro: mezzo-soprano
Suzuki, character from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly: mezzo-soprano


First workshop with reduced orchestra: January 19-20, 2019, Snapshot Festival, West Edge Opera, Berkeley, and San Francisco, CA.

Libretto reading: April 28, 2019, San Francisco.


Premiere: TBD – seeking co-production partners

The life and career of Zheng Cao, whose artistry touched all who knew her, are exactly the kind of inspirational subjects that opera thrives on.  Her warmth, humanity, musical virtuosity, and courage in the face of looming tragedy will make an operatic telling of her story compelling and emotionally gripping.  I look forward with great anticipation to seeing her amazing operatic journey  brought to life on the stage by the lyrical and stirring music of Shinji Eshima.

Kip Cranna, Dramaturg

San Francisco Opera

Watch YouTube

ABC News video: Zheng Cao's opera career and life were put on hold after learning she had cancer.

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