Saturday, December 23, 2006

Elaborate "Dream of the Red Mansion"

Yesterday was an exciting night for me, as I finally managed to catch the elaborate version of "Dream of the Red Mansion" at the Esplanade after 6 long years of waiting.

The performance was performed by Shanghai Yue Opera Company, starring China's first-grade actresses Qian Huili and Shan Yangping as Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu respectively. When I first watched their VCD production of this same show in 2000, I was amazed by the elaborate stage set, big number of ensemble roles in various scenes as well as the rich sound produced by their grand musical team, which includes western orchestra instruments as well. However, the show they put up yesterday night wasn't really as good as the VCD version. First of all, the stage at Esplanade was actually not as big as the stage they performed in Shanghai, and hence the stage set had been slightly simplified. For example, in the original version, they actually had a full-sized bridge with many peach blossom trees on the stage for the garden scenes. In yesterday's version, the bridge was reduced to just a section, and the number of trees was greatly reduced too. The number of ensemble roles had been reduced too, but I supposed it would be too much of a cost if the opera company is to bring in as many actors as what they had back then, and hence they decided to do the cut.

Having said that, ther were still some rather nice parts. For example, in the scene where Daiyu was burying the wiltered peach blossoms, the flowers actually fell off from the tree branches by themselves (the tree props were actually electricity powered), adding more realism to the show. Also, in the scene where Daiyu burnt all her poems during her dying moments, the furnace glowed red when the poems where thrown in, with smoke coming out. I could hear some members of the audience wowing at this sight. In the original China production, they even had soot flying out of the furnace at the end of the burning, but too bad in this production, there isn't any.

In terms of acting and singing, there wasn't nothing much to really complain, other than Fang Yafen and Chen Ying, who couldn't reach some high notes in their songs last night. I guess they are down with flu due to the weather, or else it is almost impossible for them to show such sub-standard performance. As for the music, I feel it had improved quite a great deal since their 1999 production. For example, in the scene where Daiyu was buring her poems again, the music back then was too rush, and it didn't quite bring out the grievances of Lin Daiyu well in that scene. The tempo and feel of the music was better controlled this time round, and in some scenes, additional timpani rolls were inserted suitably to create higher climax.

A magnificant show, I should say, despite some lacking areas. However, I was a bit disappointed as well, as my favourite actress Wang Zhiping was not in the cast. Anyway, I now wonder if there is any chance Shanghai Yue opera company will bring in Wang Zhiping and Zheng Guofeng's version, or Fang Yafen and Zhao Zhigang's version in future...