Friday, December 28, 2007
This piece is taken from Liyuan opera titled "Zhu Bian", which tells the story of a Song dynasty official Zhu Bian, who was sent to the Jurchen kingdom on a foreign diplomacy mission and was forced by the Jurchen King to marry the Princess. When Zhu Bian refused, he was locked up, and after being persuaded by the palace maids, he finally agreed to marry the Princess, but only in name. For sixteen years, Zhu Bian and the Princess maintained a brother-and-sister relationship, and upon seeing that Zhu Bian was utterly unmoved by power and riches, the Jurchen King finally decided to let him return to his homeland. This piece of music is the duet between Zhu Bian and the Princess before Zhu Bian set off back home.
念着朱弁 刻骨铭心 我须当谨记
Rough English translation:
Thank you Your Highness, for the kindness you've showered upon me,
I, Zhu Bian, will never ever forget.
Remember the day when you appeared in front of my chateau,
I've fallen in love in you, and hoping that both of us will be married,
But who would have thought that we will get separated as like today.
There's nothing I can do,
To repay Your Highness' deep love for me.
My Lord, please do not forget,
The deep relationship we had for the past 16 years,
For we will not be able to see each other again, other than in our dreams.
The show they performed on that day is titled "Empress of Two States". It's about the Emperor of Jin dynasty who was utterly uninterested in politics and hence suffered a humiliating defeat in war and had to marry off his Empress to the King of the invading tribe.
I had not finished watching the entire show, but from what I see, the storyline is as such:
The crown prince of the Emperor is a brave warrior, but is reckless and always foul things up. His brother-in-law, the Princess consort, is on the other hand good at foreign diplomacy and strategies. Fearing that the Emperor would change his mind and decides to pass the throne to the Princess consort, the ruthless crown prince poisoned his father and tried to pass the blame to the Princess consort instead.
Personally I feel this troupe is not bad as the standard of the main acting team quite uniform. Usually in non-government sponsored Xiangju opera troupes, the male xiaoshengs don't sing well, but for this troupe, I find the male actor assuming the role of the evil crown prince passable. The female xiaosheng performing the role of the Princess consort sang and acted well too.
This is one of the pieces from a Nanyin ensemble performing next to Quanzhou cultural centre on one of the evenings I was there, titled "Why Did I?" (我为乜). This is a classical piece from the folk story of "Qin Xuemei", whereby unwedded widow Qin Xuemei (and her in-laws, I supposed) were lamenting that Shang Luo, the son of Qin's unwedded husband with another woman, is becoming unfilial and scolding Qin for punishing him when he's not even Qin's biological son.
玉洁冰清 我受尽艰辛 望你成器
听你说 我今听你说 说出亲疏言语
言语亲疏 阮今情愿 子今情愿卜返去乡里
所靠商郎夫 你似颜回寿 耽误阮双人
眼睁睁 眼睁睁 叫都袂应
玉不琢 不成器 不由人 不珠泪
今旦日 行无踪 踪无影
Rough English translation:
Why did I ended up in such loneliness,
Staying chaste and enduring all hardship just to make sure you grow up to be a useful person?
Because of you I've chosen to remain as an unwed widow,
But hearing you say such hurtful words today makes me feel like giving up all hopes.
(Shang Lin's parents:)
What an unfilial grandson you are, making your mother angry,
Our Shang family has got only an offspring in you,
If you're to meet with any mishap,
Who are we, your grandparents, going to depend on?
Shang Lin my husband, why did you pass away so early and made both of us your widow;
How can you bear to leave us alone in this world?
Jade must be polished to become useful; I have no choice and I'm not allow to cry,
All I can do is to cry behind the backs of other people.
(Shang Lin's parents:)
Look at Shang Luo reminds me of my son Shang Lin,
But alas, he's no longer around.
The only way to see him again is only in my dreams.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Musically, I feel that this excerpt's composition is one of the more unique among all the other excerpts that the troupe is about to bring to Fuzhou for competition. Like in the opening of the scene, the "Xin Bei Diao" melody (新北调), which was usually meant for sorrowful scenes, was transposed from F to C key. This alteration of the pitch added a sense of spiritedness to the character of Lu You as a passionate politician. Also in the closing of the excerpt when Lu You was penning the poem and doing his sword dance, the music had been specially recomposed to suit Lu You's innermost feelings and conflicts.
In terms of directing, I like the ending bits of the scene where the role of Wu Han was stomping the ground with his fist when he saw Princess Lanying lying dead on the ground; I find this action portray Wu Han's regret and agony very effectively. There was an earlier action whereby Princess Lanying was reminding Wu Han of what loving they were in the past, and there was a particular action whereby Yanling was to grab hold of the edge of her right watersleeve with her left hand, pulled it straight, and then wrap around her shoulder with it. It was unfortunate that Sulan did not manage to do it correctly on stage, for if she had executed it accurately, it would have given the audience the feeling of the lovey dovey atmosphere of a newly wed couple.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
In terms of directing, I am pleased that director Wu did not choreograph this show exactly like the yueju version, as like what he did for most of the excerpts he had choreographed before. At the very least, I could see some originality in the performing style (in the Yueju version, Chen Fei used Chinese dance movement to portray the young and naive Yu Furong and 7-feet watersleeves for the vengeful ghost, but in this version, Yang Xiaoyi used opera hankerchiefs for the front part and long sash for the ending). The director also arranged another actor on stage (totally masked and without any dialogue) who represent the bad people (brothel operators, their workers and brothel patrons), which I think is brilliant as it gives this show a more dramatic feel. This character did not appear in either the Mulian Opera or Yueju version. However, what I find not good enough is the opening to the excerpt. Being a very "contemporary" show, I'd expect to see a relatively more refreshing directing approach, but unfortunately it was still rather traditional, in the sense that the ghost floats around the stage wearing what seems like conventional ghost costumes.
Music-wise, I'm very pleased, especially the part where Yu Furong was singing about her tragic fate of being thrown out of the brothel. The composer (unfortunately I do not know who did the music) arranged for the actor to sing "Xiao Kudiao" (小哭调), which is very suitable for sad weepy songs. What surprises me, though, was the usage of backup vocals to harmonise with the lead vocal to create a more moody, sympathetic feel to the scene.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
This alternative rendition was performed by the late Yin Guifang in 1962, and her leading-female counterpart was Li Jinfeng. I am not certain if Li Jinfeng was a Yuan-styled huadan though, but subsequent re-runs of the show in Yin'a troupe (Fujian Fanghua Yueju Opera Troupe) were all performed in this style, with Wang Jun'an and Li Min being the troupe's best representatives of it. Shanghai Yueju Opera Company had did a similar rendition in 1999 starring Zhao Zhigang and Fang Yafen, as a move to revamp this timeless classic.
Here are various clips of this new rendition, alongside the ones from the "classic" version, and it's not hard to see the difference in feel and style. It is to be noted that the version shown here are from the 2001 Hong Kong performance, which was accompanied by Chinese orchestra, while the original scores used in the 1999 Shanghai version was supposedly meant to be played with westen orchestra.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Siong Leng's version of "Li Yaxian", despite having said to incorporate a modern-day character and some contemporary drama elements inside, is still rather traditional. The role of the modern-day character, a photographer, is somewhat a narrator to the different excerpts of the show (some scenes were snipped to make the show more concise). Along the way, this photographer "interviewed" the actors playing the various roles with regards to the show. I think this part is rather creative, for Liyuan opera, being a very ancient form of opera, might be too distant for many young people to be able to appreciate, especially how the characters in the show think and feel. By doing so, it somehow bridge the gap between the modern audience and the ancient roles of the opera. Besides the creativity shown here, I'm also rather satisfied with the performance venue. Liyuan opera is not known to be a opera featuring lavish set or grand casts, and I think the recital studio is just a perfect place for such a small-scale opera; the acting space is not too big, yet the lighting and sound facilities are good enough.
It's a pity I wasn't able to take pictures or do video recording within the venue itself, so for now, I'll just showcase two excerpts from this show, performed by Quanzhou City Liyuan Opera Experimental Troupe. The two excerpts here are "The Ball Game" and "Lian Hua Luo".
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
This version here is performed by Wu Jingjing of Xiamen Jin Lian Sheng Gaojia Opera Troupe. The singing aria for the main role in this excerpt, Zheng Yuanhe, is the same for both opera genres, with a slight difference in some wordings. However, as this excerpt here is intended to be performed as a standalone excerpt with little connection to the original show, it has been re-choreographed, and therefore those who are familiar with the Liyuan opera version of this excerpt may find this version a bit unfamiliar.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Showcasing here, are two clips from Hokkien Xiangju opera “The Bridge of Mother and Son”. Now some of you viewers, especially those from my opera troupe as well as those who had watched Zhangzhou City Xiangju Opera Troupe’s show, might think how come these clips don’t seem familiar. The version featured here is performed by Zhangpu County Xiangju Opera Troupe, and is actually the original version before Zhangzhou City Xiangju Opera Troupe revised the show and made it part of their repertoire.
Allow me to say a bit about the show. The script was written by the late Xiangju opera scriptwriter Tang Yinchang, who is renowned for his works like “The Tale of the Medicinal Stone” and “Protecting the Baby”. His masterpieces usually centred on family-orientated themes which touch the hearts of the common-folks. In this show, the plot is about an unfilial son Liu San, who forgot about his mother’s existence after he got married to Qi’niang. His mother, Madam Xu, got so upset that she was forced to attempt suicide but was saved by the magistrate. The magistrate was furious when he found out what happened and wanted to imprison the young couple, but was stopped by his wife. He then invited Liu San and Qi’niang over to hint them if they had lost anything valuable at home. The young couple counted everything they had at home, but missing out on Madam Xu. The magistrate finally lost his temper and wanted to throw them into jail. It was only at this juncture did Liu San finally recalled he had a mother whom he had not seen for a long time. After crying out to his mother, Madam Xu ran out to see her son, and both hugged together in tears. The magistrate allowed the young couple to bring Madam Xu home, but Liu San and Qi’niang were remorseful for their past actions, and suggested that they be locked up as a punishment. The magistrate agreed and arranged for them to stay for the night in the jail while Madam Xu became their invited guest for dinner.
In my opinion, Zhangpu County Xiang Opera Troupe’s performance standard is rather average, especially in terms of singing. Some of the actors actually sang rather badly. However, I think the troupe do score point in terms of their script, as I believe the late Master Tang was their anchor scriptwriter. Their music is also one of their strength too, and I particularly like their “Zasui” melody a lot.
With the demise of Master Tang, I’m not sure what the direction is for the troupe, and it has been quite a while since there was news from them. Hopefully the troupe will not fall apart just like that, for after all, they had produced quite a few well-received shows in the past.
Monday, July 30, 2007
The Liyuan opera has got the reputation of being Chinese opera's living heritage as it has got a long history of 800 years, and it was even said that the ways huadans in Liyuan opera moved and walked were actually inspired by how women really walked back in the Ming dynasty. The repertoire for Liyuan opera is also one of the rarest; some of the scripts dates back to the era of Song dynasty's "Zaju" opera and had already been extinct in other opera genres.
"Li Yaxian" is one of the most popular shows that are still being performed in Liyuan opera. It tells the story of a talented scholar, Zheng Yuanhe, who fell in love with a beautiful courtesan named Li Yaxian while on his way to sit for the imperial examinations. In order to get close to this beauty, Yuanhe decided to step into the "forbidden zone" - the brothel which Yaxian lived in. Brothel owner Madame Li knew this was a good opportunity to cheat Yuanhe of his money, so she decided to bring the couple together. After neglecting his studies and having used up all his money, the heartless Madame Li had Yuanhe chased out, and Yaxian used her own money to redeem herself to go in search of Yuanhe.
For Siong Leng's performance, however, there was a slight change to the script, for now, the love story of Zheng Yuanhe and Li Yaxian would be unfold through the camera lens of a modern-day photographer. That makes me curious over one point: this performance has been introduced as a "Liyuan opera", but is it going to be really a pure Liyuan opera, for it seems that there is a bit of contemporary drama essence involved. My guess is that it could be something like "Titoudao", a fusion of contemporary drama with authentic Chinese opera, just that in this case, the dosage of Liyuan opera would be much stronger, and lesser concentration on contemporary drama (maybe 10% or lesser). If that is the case, labelling this show as "Liyuan opera" might be a bit misleading, for those who is more into watching "authentic" Chinese opera. Nevertheless, I still feel that this show sounds interesting, and should be a good performance to catch.
"Li Yaxian" is part of the "Chinese opera delights" series by the Esplanade, and shall be staged on 11 August 2007, 3pm and 8pm, at the Esplanade Ricital Studio. Tickets are priced at $35 (senior citizens, NSF and students enjoy a concession price of $26), and is available at SISTIC.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Well to be honest, this form of makeup is no longer a novelty in the Chinese opera field, but in Cantonese opera, this is not very common, for Cantonese opera is known for it's very traditional ways of presenting their shows, which includes traditional white-and-red makeup and "da tou" hairstyles for "dan" roles, both of which were passed down for generations. I feel that Chinese opera should keep up with times, and by adopting this new makeup style, although superficial, can actually attract new and younger audiences who might find the traditional way of makeup very alien to them (though I'm still NOT in favour of staging a Chinese opera show in English or any other languages). One thing I'm not sure though, was whether the more "conservative" audience can accept this "unconventional" style, or whether or not CTC would really adopt this makeup style in this show (or even future shows), or is it just for promotional purposes that they use this style.
"Qiu Jin -The Unsung Woman Warrior" will be staged at the Drama Centre Theatre on 15 September 2007 at 7.30pm (1 show only!). Tickets are priced at $10, $15, $20, $20 and $50, and are available at Gatcrash.com.sg and Singpost/ SAM.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Quite a number of new insertions and changes had been made to the original directing, including the "underwater scene" prequel as well the short flute playing scene of Zhang Zhen (played by Zheng Guofeng). I like these 2 new insertions, as it has strengthen the plot to make this fish-man love more believable. The "underwater scene" had got a cold icy feeling, a reflection on the carp fairy's inner world, and the flute playing scene depicts Zhang Zhen's loneliness after being isolated and left all alone by his materialistic future in-laws at the Jade Pond Studyplace. The inner world of both characters coincide, and that formed the basis of their love; they truely understand the solitude faced by each other, and therefore it made sense as to how come both characters are willing to perish for one another towards the end of the show.
I'm quite pleased with this new directing sense, though these video recordings really gave me a big headache with all the shakiness. How I wish Shanghai Yue Opera Company can bring this show to Singapore to perform, hopefully at the Esplanade!
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Zhangpu Che Gu opera, compared to other forms of Che Gu styles in the region, is more robust, as it was originally performed by male soldiers in ancient times. It was said that Chen Yuanguang, the founding pioneer of Zhangzhou, brought his troop into Zhangzhou after a victorious battle, and in celebration, the soilderis performed a dance accompanied with strong drums and percussions. This form of military dance formed the basis of Zhangpu Che Gu, and centuries later, singing was added to the dance to spice up this ancient art form.
"Zhaojun Leaves Her Hometown"
Zhangpu Bamboo Horse Opera (竹马戏) is a form of folk opera which was developed from the ancient Bamboo Horse Dance, which had existed since the Tang dynasty. Back then, this form of dance did not have it's specific name, but since dancers doing this dance would don a model of a horse made of bamboo and paper or cloth, people in later generations started to call it the Bamboo Horse dance.
Traditional Bamboo Horse Opera only has a vey small repetoire, with "Wang Zhaojun" and "Grievances of Wang Zhaojun" being rhe most commonly performed shows. At the peak of the opera's popularity before the cultural revolution, many opera troupes dedicating to Bamboo Horse Opera started adapting shows from other opera forms into their own reportoire, thus greatly increased this opera form's artistic value. However, this form of opera went into rapid decline after the cultural revolution, and was once thought to have become extinct. Fortunately, in the past decade, the relevant authorities in Zhangzhou region started paying attention to the preservation of this ancient opera form, and results had been rather positive. However, for this form of opera to really become popular again, it would require a lot more effort and publicity.
Currently there are no professional Bamboo Horse Opera troupes in China, though Bamboo Horse Dance can still be seen at times in Zhangpu and Nanjing regions in Zhangzhou, as well as various parts of the Chaozhou districts in Guangdong province during festive seasons.
"Song of the Four Seasons"
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The troupe started off with a "ban xian" operatte. Unlike the Hokkien opera which usually had "The Eight Immortals" (醉八仙， 八仙祝寿) or "The 3 Devine Stars" (三星会) as the opening sequence to the "ban xian" operatte, Teochew opera's "ban xian" (think only applies to South-east asian countries) had "The Premier of Six Kingdoms" (六国封相) as the opening to their "ban xian". Tong Gek Lau Choon's "The Premier of Six Kingdoms" were a disappointment to me; firstly, the actors acting as the horse boys were actually wearing "Carlsberg t-shirts over their red opera pants, and they didn't even bother to tie any scarfs or wear headgears over their hair! And then, it seemed like many of the actors involved did not really know the lyrics and dialogues to the show. I wonder how could that be, especially when "ban xian" operatte is the most important thing for an opera troupe performing for temple fairs. In some instances, the whole temple celebrations and rituals would have to be postponed if a travelling opera troupe is not able to turn up on time for their "ba xian" operatte! Our troupe's loyal fan Eric was at the show too, and he echoed the same sentiments as me. Luckily, the main show for the night was much better, much to my relief.
The show for the night was titled "Showdown at Fan Yang City". At first glance it sounded like some swordsfighting show, but it is not. This is a typical action-packed opera based on imperial settings. The story tells of a Chinese general who was under the spell of a babarian Princess during his conquest to the barbarian kingdom, resulting him to lose all his memories and tricked into believing that he was the Princess consort of the babarian kingdom. Meanwhile the treacherous villain made use of this incident to brainwash the Emperor into believing that the general had betrayed the imperial court by surrendering to the enemy forces. The furious Emperor wanted to execute the entire clan of the general, but they were spared after a loyal subject begged the Emperor for forgiveness. The wife of the general, together with his younger brother and sister, decided to travel into the barbarian kingdom to look for the general. Of course, the general could not remember anything, and the babarian Princess, being afriad that one day her consort might just remember everything, decided to send her men to kill the trio. Fortunately, they were later saved. After a twist of events, the trio learnt martial arts from various masters seperately and saved the Emperor from being harmed by the treacherous villain and the evil Empress. The Emperor then passed his throne to the Crown Prince, and the young Emperor sent the general's younger brother to launch an attack on the babarian kingdom. The war was a success, and the general was finally captured and regained his memory. After being trailled, the Emperor realised that the general was doing things beyond his wishes, and therefore decided to pardon him, and the general was finally reunited with his wife and family.
To be real honest, I do not feel that this show is of good quality in terms of script, as the first half of the show was too draggy, whereas the pace second half of the show was simply too fast and confusing. I supposed this show was intended to be acted over 4 to 5 hours, all the way till past midnight, as like how they were acted in Malaysia, Thailand or even Hong Kong. However, I think they can be forgiven, because they might not know the rules and regulations of public performances in Singapore, and they've "compensated" with good acting and singing from some of their actors. One thing I like about them is their loud gongs and drums, as I felt that this is the essence of Teochew opera. If a Teochew opera troupe's gongs and drums are not loud, it just feels empty. They also have got a relatively large casting strength, and having quite a number of young actors, the troupe appears more "appealing", in terms of packaging as well as being able to stage shows with lots of fighting sequences.
The troupe is performing till 4th of July, and tickets are priced at $5, available at the temple's admin office.