The new opera The Red Silk Thread, An Epic Tale of Marco Polo takes us back to the 13th century, but its themes are still relevant today.

Composed by UCF’s Stella Sung, the opera will debut next week at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Sung, director of UCF’s Center for Research and Education in Arts, Technology and Entertainment, has written about 100 compositions, but this is her first opera – and she says it won’t be her last.

“In doing the research, I discovered that I could develop a story – based in historical fact or at least what we know of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan – that would make a good opera plot,” she said. “Dashing world traveler plus a young and beautiful princess gives us the love element, but the thrust of the story has two central themes: one of fate and one of transformation, and this is really where the depth of the story is found.”

The tale follows the Italian merchant on his travels to China, where he meets the Mongolian emperor and his daughter. The project took about nine months to complete with librettist Ernest Hilbert.

The story came about because Sung said she wanted to expound on the Chinese proverb that says “people who are meant to be together will also be connected by an invisible ‘thread’ – a feeling of being connected to those whom we are fated to meet.”

The story line also interested her because her parents are from China. They met at UF and still live in Gainesville.

Sung joined UCF in 1987 as a visiting instructor in the Music Department. She soon became a full-time professor, teaching music theory, composition, piano, singing and other courses. In 2006, she became a professor of digital media in the School of Visual Arts and Design, and in 2007 was named to her current post, where she develops multidisciplinary research-driven initiatives.

Drawing from that multidisciplinary background, she used digital technology to create a virtual set with projections.

“Our set has been designed by a local group from Ninjaneer Studios, a small group of former UCF students who graduated from our character-animation program – Joe Rosa, Heather Knott and Chris Brown,” Sung said. “They have worked very diligently to produce some spectacular virtual sets with slight animations, so that the set will feel like a ‘living’ set. The ship scene will have some shimmering water, billowing sails, etcetera. I am incredibly excited to see these projected!”

An ensemble cast of performers from the UF Opera Theatre, directed by Beth Greenberg, will be joined by the UF Symphony Orchestra led by Raymond Chobaz. From UCF, Thomas Potter, an associate professor of voice in the Music Department, will play a lead role of Kublai Khan.

Performances for The Red Silk Thread, which will be sung in English, will be 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 17, and Saturday, April 19, at Phillips Center on the UF campus.

Tickets range from $25 to $40 and can be purchased from the box office at 352-392-2787.