Friday, December 28, 2007

Quanzhou: The Hometown of "Nanyin" 2

Previously I've written about nanyin performances in the parks of Quanzhou every evening, and now, here is another video clip of the same ensemble performing another piece titled "Thank You Your Highness" (感谢公主).

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
哥汝须谨记 我哥汝今须当谨记
爱卜相见 除非着南柯梦里
爱卜相见 除非着南柯梦里

Rough English translation:
(Zhu Bian:)
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.
(Zhu Bian:)
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.

Zhangzhou's Huang Yamei Gezi Opera Troupe In Action

On the same day I watched Zhupu Xiangju opera troupe performing in one corner of Zhangzhou, I chanced upon another troupe staging their performance in another location of the same city. This other troupe I saw was Huang Yamei Gezi opera troupe. They're said to be not too bad too, but more Taiwanese-influenced. The main sheng of the troupe especially, though sang in typical Zhangzhou accent, has got a strong Taiwanese opera feel. The troupe's main actors are not too bad, but I can't say the same for their minor actors.

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.

Huang Yamei Gezi opera troupe performing on a makeshift stage; though the stage looks dilapidated, the quality of their performance still surpasses some of the shows I've watched locally

Unlike Zhupu Xiangju opera troupe, this troupe uses projection scenery; this form of backdrop has got the advantage of being unrestrained by the size of the stage, but it takes up quite a bit of space, which could be freed up to hold props or set aside for actors to change costumes and do their makeup (the actors had to do makeup by the side of the road!)

The main sheng of the troupe; she took on 2 roles: Emperor Sima Jinlang and his son Emperor Sima Shuanglong

Almost every troupe, if not all, have got LED subtitle display machines by the side of the stage to facilitate understand of what the actors sing and say (however, sometimes whatever that is displayed may not really reflect what the actors are singing or saying!)

I don't like the actor performing the role of the eunuch because he's very restless on stage

See what I mean? I'm not sure if he'd dozed off or just closing his eyes to rest; whatever the case, this is just not acceptable for me.

Zhangzhou's Zhangpu Xiangju Opera Troupe In Action

Lately I've visited Zhangzhou and caught 2 Xiangju opera troupes performing in 2 different places on a single night. One of which is Zhupu Xiangju opera troupe from Longhai; it is a professional non-government sponsored troupe, and is considered one of the better troupes of its kind in terms of performing standards.

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.

Main drape for the troupe

Troupe in action

The evil crown prince

The Princess consort

See the hua lian at the far corner? She's the troupe leader; one of the very rare few female hua lians in an opera genre whereby male and female actors share the same stage



I don't understand why palace maids in non-government sponsored and amateur troupes like to stand in such an aggressive pose!

Another thing I don't like about some Xiangju opera troupes is that the hairdo for the huadans are simply too ugly, like this one here.

This actor, performing the role of the Emperor, is a multitasker; during scenes where he's not required to appear on stage, he doubles up as the cello player

Quanzhou: The Hometown of "Nanyin"

Nanyin music, the classical music of the south, has got a history of about a thousand years or so, and is the oldest and most well-preserved musical form known to the Chinese presently, which still showed musical influences from the Han, Jin, Tang and Song dynasty. Quanzhou is the hometown for this form of music, otherwise known as Nan Guan, and every evening, such musical performances would take place all over the city in the major parks.

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.

我为乜 我为乜只处冷冷清清孤单
玉洁冰清 我受尽艰辛 望你成器
我只门前 我只门前长挂有只旌表个金字
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

孙不肖 致惹你娘亲心受气
所靠商郎夫 你似颜回寿 耽误阮双人
我爹爹 公婆娘亲障说
眼睁睁 眼睁睁 叫都袂应
玉不琢 不成器 不由人 不珠泪
看儿孙行动举止 亲像我儿商琳伊来再出世
今旦日 行无踪 踪无影
日后若再相逢 除非着南柯梦里
苦伤悲 阮泪淋漓
火里莲花 今旦袂得相见
火里个莲花 今旦袂得相见

Rough English translation:
(Qin Xuemei:)
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?
(Qin Xuemei:)
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

Zhangzhou City Xiangju Opera Excerpt Review: "An'an Acknowledges His Mother"

Title: An'an Acknowledges His Mother (安安认母)
Performer: Zhu Lijuan
Director: Wu Ziming

This excerpt is extracted from a now-extinct Xiangju show titled "Tales of the Vermicelli" (面线冤), which was in turn based on a very old story of lady, named Pang, who was chased away by her mother-in-law, after the latter listened to the gossips of her neighbours and firmly believed that Pang had been cursing for her to die behind her back. Pang tried to attempt suicide, but was saved by a nun and since then stayed in the nunnery. Pang's seven year-old son An'an missed his mother and ran out in search of her and were reunited at the nunnery. An'an pleaded for Pang to return home with him, but knowing that it would be impossible for her to return when her mother-in-law is still around, she firmly declined. She told An'an to sit for the imperial examination after he grew up, and upon topping the examinations would she be able to step into the family again with her head up. Years later, Pang's mother-in-law realised how virtuous Pang was, and finally accepted her back into the family. It has once been said that this show has got a slight political implication, reflecting on the Taiwan-Mainland China relations.

Pang stayed at the nunnery, and was afraid of hearing children cry in the night for she would miss her son terribly. On one day, her son, An'an, really turned up, and the mother and son had a tearful reunion. She asked An'an about how the family was after she left, and was upset when she knew that her mother-in-law told An'an that he would be getting a new mother soon. Pang tried to persuade An'an to go home but the latter refused. In anger she threatened her with cane, but found that she could not bear to hit him. She then explained that she could not return until there was someone to protect her from her mother-in-law, and therefore asked An'an to come back after topping the imperial examination when he grew up.

This excerpt relies solely on singing and perhaps acting, and I felt it is quite hard to really shine, unless the actor assuming the role of Pang could sing very well. This is not to say Zhu Lijuan could not sing well; she could sing, but then again in opera competitions like the one the troupe's participating in, you need more punch in order to let people have better impression.

Script: * * * *
Music: * * * *
Directing sense: * * *
Acting: * * * 1/2
Singing: * * * 1/2
Final rating: * * * 1/2

Zhangzhou City Xiangju Opera Excerpt Review: "Jingniang Sends Off Her Brother"

Title: Jingniang Sends Off Her Brother (京娘送兄)
Performer: Yang Zhenzhen
Director: Wu Ziming

"Jingniang Sends Off Her Brother" is an excerpt from a traditional Xiangju opera show titled "Zhao Kuangyin and Zhao Jingniang", which was featured in many other opera genres as well. This show was based on a folk story about how Zhao Kuangyin (before he became the first Emperor of the Song dynasty) saved a lady by the name of Jingniang from the hands of bandits and send her thousands of miles back to her hometown.

After safely sending Jingniang back home, Zhao Kuangyin left Jingniang's residence, and in the middle of the night, saw Jingniang coming back to send him off. Unable to resist her good intention, he agreed to let her come along. Along the way, Jingniang spoke strange words, and her behaviour was peculiar, and Zhao Kuangyin started to realise that something was not right about her. Upon questioning, he realised that the Jingniang that was in front of him is no longer a human being, but a ghost. It turned out that although Zhao Kuangyin had previously acknowledged her as his sworn sister before embarking on the journey back home, it did not stop people from gossiping about their relationship. After Zhao Kuangyin left Jingniang's residence, neighbours and relatives started spreading malicious rumours behind their back. Jingniang could not tolerate the accusations and hence committed suicide. Zhao Kuangyin regretted his actions, but all was too late; dawn broke and Jingniang disappeared into thin air.

Yang Zhenzhen is not known to be a very solid actor, due to lack of onstage experience. She did improve quite a bit on singing, but her gestures were still lacking. At times her actions did not go well with the percussions, and at times she lacked the feel of a hovering ghost. Her co-acting partner, Zheng Ruosong, did not fare well as he did not sing well enough. I feel that even though the focus is not on the role of Zhao Kuangyin (since only Yang Zhenzhen is participating candidate in this excerpt), the director should at least get someone who could sing better, so as not to pull down the grading for the show.

Script: * * * 1/2
Music: * * * 1/2
Directing sense: * * * *
Acting: * * * 1/2
Singing: * * * 1/2
Final rating: * * * 1/2

Zhangzhou City Xiangju Opera Excerpt Review: "Summer Snow"

Title: Summer Snow (六月雪)
Performer: Xu Yuxiang
Director: Wu Ziming

"Summer Snow", also called "The Grievances of Dou E", was written by master scriptwriter Guan Hanqing in the Yuan dynasty, originally to show his dissatisfaction with the corrupted government of that era. This script has been adapted into many different modern opera genres, including Peking opera, Gaojia opera, Teochew opera and many others. The highlight of the show is the scene "Execution of Dou E", in which this excerpt here is based on.

Widow Dou E had been given the death sentence for she was accused for murdering her father-in-law, which was actually not true. The truth was that a father and son had lusted over Dou E's widowed mother-in-law and herself, and in order to make Dou E succumb to him, the son tried to poison Dou E's mother-in-law, but in accident, his father was poisoned to death instead. The son then tried to shift the blame onto Dou E's mother-in-law, but Dou E took the rap instead. Before her execution, Dou E made three wishes: first, her blood was to spill upwards onto a long white sash, and not onto the ground; second; Chuzhou will snow for 3 years to bury her body; third, a famine will take place after the snow for 3 years, to show her innocence.

Xu Yuxiang is one of the all-rounded new bloods in the troupe. Not only can she sing well, she could act well in both wen and wu roles, and those in between. This excerpt is a good show to showcase her talent and there is a great deal of singing, acting and complex movements. If there was anything dissatisfactory, it would have to be the execution part, where Xu Yuxiang's landing on the ground should have coincided with the executing actions of the executioner, but unfortunately she landed too early, making that action seemed illogical.

Script: * * * *
Music: * * * *
Directing sense: * * * *1/2
Acting: * * * *
Singing: * * * *
Final rating: * * * *

Zhangzhou City Xiangju Opera Excerpt Review: "Sorrowful Meeting At Shen Garden"

Title: Sorrowful Meeting at Shen Garden (沈园绝唱)
Performer: Zheng Yaling as Lu You
Director: Wu Ziming

"Sorrowful Meeting at Shen Garden" is the final scene of "Lu You and Tang Wan", an award-winning Zhejiang Yueju opera show starring Mao Weitao and Chen Huiling as the title roles. This excerpt has been adapted into Teochew opera before as well.

After leaving home for three years, Lu You returned to his hometown full of thoughts. While Lu You is famed for his talent in poetry and passion in politics, his marriage with his cousin Tang Wan was unfortunately a failure. Old Madam Lu was so upset that Lu You's relationship with her had distanced since his son got married, and henced tried ways to separate them. To ease the tension, Lu You decided to leave for Fuzhou, not before writing a secret letter to Tang Wan, asking her to wait for 3 years for his return. Old Madam Lu got hold of the letter, and amended the letter so that it would read "wait for a hundred years", in an attempt to make Tang Wan think that Lu You is trying to divorce her. Tang Wan saw through old Madam Lu's tactics, and deciding not to create more tension between the mother and son, she decided to get remarried to Lu You's friend, Master Shen. This day, when Lu You arrived at Shen's Garden, he chanced upon Tang Wan again, and was shocked that everything had changed. In sorrow, he penned his famed poem "Phoenix Hairpin" on the walls of the Shen's Garden.

Zheng Yaling has got her own singing style, which can be considered her asset. However, in terms of shenduan, she is relatively weaker. Fortunately in this excerpt, the gestures are all modeled after Mao Weitao's movements in the original Yueju version, and I feel that Yaling performed better now, except for the final sword dance, which I felt she did not make full use of the duration of the music. Having said so, it is still debatable as to whether or not the director should set a new directing style (in terms of gestures and costumes), instead of copying everything as they are from Yueju. To be honest, if one were to cover his/ her ears, and not look at Yaling's face, one would even be misled into thinking that he/ she is watching a Yueju excerpt.

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.

Script: * * * *
Music: * * * *1/2
Directing sense: * * * 1/2
Acting: * * * 1/2
Singing: * * * *
Final rating: * * * *

Zhangzhou City Xiangju Opera Excerpt Review: "Wu Han Kills His Wife"

Title: Wu Han Kills His Wife (吴汉杀妻)
Performer: Lan Haibin as Wuhan, Lin Sulan as Wang Lanying
Director: Wu Ziming

"Wu Han Kills His Wife" is a very popular traditional show in various genres of Chinese opera. Based on the action choreography that was designed for the actors, I believed this show is based on the Gaojia opera version, this genre being famous for action scenes.

Wu Han was given an order by his mother to kill his wife, Princess Lanying before dawn breaks or else she would commit suicide. In oder to fulfill his duty as a filial son, he had to oblige and stormed back to his residence. However, when he heard Princess Lanying chanting Buddhist sutra by the side hall, he suddenly felt that he could not bear to kill his virtuous wife. Princess Lanying could tell that something was not right with her consort, and after much questioning, Wu Han finally revealed the truth. It turned out that when Wu Han was still young, Princess Lanying's father, Emperor Wang Mang, had killed a number of loyal subjects of the former dynasty in order to usurp the throne for himself. As Wu Han was still young, his mother never told him the truth until then. Therefore, in order for the secret rebellion force to have full trust in Wu's family to plan a comeback, Wu Han had to slay the daughter of the current Emperor. Upon hearing Wu Han's words, Princess Lanying knew that she had to die in order not to let her husband be in a dilenma. Wu Han could not bear to kill Lanying, and planned to protect her with his life. Princess Lanying knew well that would not work, and hence seized Wu Han's sword from its shield while Wu Han wasn't alert and commited suicide, leaving Wu Han full of remorse.

Lan Haibin's trained in wusheng roles, and he's good at all the actions choreographed for him. However, his main weakness lies in singing, and there're quite a lot of singing for his role. Lin Sulan, on the other hand, is good at singing, but is less effective in executing all the delicate and complex movements set by director Wu. There are two very obvious flaws in their performance. The first is the part where Princess Lanying hugged Wu Han, saw his sword hanging by his waist and a sudden thought of committing suicide came to mind. Due to the fact that Haibin had not don the da kao (Chinese opera's version of full battle order) during average rehearsals, the hugging acting had caused the flags behind his da kao and thus blocking Yanling's face from the audience. Sulan then had to sweep the flags aside with her hands, and that looked rather unsightly. The second flaw was that the final falling to the ground action of both Haibin and Sulan (Haibin's to jump up and land on his knees while Lanying is to arch her body backwards and land flat on her back) did not coincide at the same time, and that made that scene less of an impact.

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.
The music is nice, but nothing really very special.

Script: * * * * 
Music: * * * 1/2
Directing sense: * * * *
Acting: * * * * 
Singing: * * * *
Final rating: * * * *

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Zhangzhou City Xiangju Opera Excerpt Review: "A Village Girl's Sorrow"

Title: A Village Girl's Sorrow (女吊)
Performer: Yang Xiaoyi
Director: Wu Ziming

"A Village Girl's Sorrow" is originally a very old one-man performance of the Mulian opera genre that was later adapted into Shaoju opera and finally further popularised by Chen Fei from Shaoxing Yueju Opera Troupe.

A lonely and vengeful female ghost hovers around, giving people the eerie feeling. Time is rewind back to the time when the female ghost was still a young, innocent village girl by the name of Yu Furong. Despite coming from a poor family, Yu Furong was nevertheless happy. However, everything changed one day, when Yu Furong's parents passed away suddenly. Having no one to depend on, she was forced into prostitution at the age of 14. She knew she could not escape, so she tried to get to terms with her new identity. Unfortunately, things just do not turn out well for her; years down the road, after having her youth wasted and caught some diseases along the way, she was thrown out of the brothel by the same people who dragged her in. Yu Furong was all alone again, and having no one to take pity or help her, she finally hanged herself to death and returned as a vengeful ghost.

Yang Xiaoyi, one of the more promising young dans in the troupe, has shown great improvement since her last appearance in Singapore early last year. Back then her body language and voice were still rather unpolished, but now her shen duan is more solid, and her newly grasped singing technique sounded more soothing to the ears.

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.

Script: * * * * *
Music: * * * * *
Directing sense: * * * 1/2
Acting: * * * * 1/2
Singing: * * * *
Final rating: * * * * 1/2

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Yueju's "Romance of the Red Masion"

"Romance of the Red Masion" is by far the most popular show in Yueju opera, popularised by great Yueju actors Xu Yulan and Wang Wenjuan in the 60s. This show had somewhat became the representative of the Xu-styled xiaosheng and Wan-styled huadan singing. But not many people would have heard of another variation of this show, performed in Yin-style (xiaosheng) and Yuan-style (huadan).

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

Hokkien Liyuan Opera: Li Yaxian

I went for Siong Leng Musical Association's "Li Yaxian" performance last Saturday afternoon, and the melody of Liyuan opera is still in my mind. Sad to say, not many people around me, including those who are into Chinese opera, are able to appreciate such opera, most claiming it to be too slow-paced.

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

Hokkien Gao Jia Opera Excerpt "Three Thousand Taels of Gold"

Miko had justed posted a video of her troupe (Liyuan opera) rehearsing the part on "Three Thousand Taels of Gold" (from the show "Li Yaxian") in her blog, and now I shall post the Gaojia opera version of it up as well.

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

Hokkien Xiangju Opera "The Bridge of Mother and Son"

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

Hokkien Liyuan Opera - "Li Yaxian"

Siong Leng Musical Association will be staging a Liyuan opera titled "Li Yaxian" at the Esplanade Recital Studio next month. This will be the association's first full-length Liyuan opera performance for over a decade.

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

Cantonese Opera "Qiu Jin -The Unsung Woman Warrior"

I was surfing Gatecrash (online ticketing service) when I came across this performance titled "Qiu Jin -The Unsung Woman Warrior". On one look, it looked like Yueju or it's sister opera due to the style of makeup, but I was presently surprised when I saw the words "Chinese Theatre Circles", and subsequently I recognised the "huadan" on the promotional picture as See Too Hoi Siang, the leading Cantonese opera actress in Chinese Theatre Circles.

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 and Singpost/ SAM.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Scene from Improvised Yueju "Romance of the Carp Fairy" 2

This is the first scene from improvised Yueju "Romance of the Carp Fairy" staged early this year.

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!

Scene from Improvised Yueju "Romance of the Carp Fairy"

Below is a scene from the improvised version of Yueju opera "Romance of the Carp Fairy" by Wang Zhiping staged early this year. This scene here tells 2 Justice Bao (one of which is a fake one disguised by a turtle spirit) holding a trial to tell apart two Jin Mudans (one of which is a fake too, impersonated by the carp fairy). The role of the real Jin Mudan and the fake Jin Mudan (carp fairy) are not easy to act, not because they have difficult stunts, but both actors must have very good chemistry and able to act like the same person. Afterall, they must give the audience the feeling that they're the splitting image of one another, either in terms of outlook and body gestures, except in some instances whereby the fake Jin Mudan has got to act slightly different to give audience the hint that she's in fact an imitation. In this case, I think Wang Zhiping and her co-actor (can't tell who she was though) had succeeded. Even their looks were quite similar too.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Zhangpu Da Che Gu Opera

Other than being home to the Bamboo Horse Opera, Zhangpu county is also home to 1300 year-old Zhangpu Da Che Gu Opera (漳浦大车鼓). Zhangpu Da Che Gu is a sub-branch of Che Gu folk opera which was once popular throughout the whole of Southern Fujian province, Chaozhou districts in Guangdong province and also Taiwan. The other notable styles of Che Gu opera include Tong'an Che Gu (同安车鼓) and Taiwan Che Gu (台湾车鼓阵).

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

Fujian province is considered "the hometown of Chinese operas", and this is not without very valid reasons. Other than having 2 of the oldest surviving Chinese opera genres (Liyuan opera and Puxian opera) in the province, there are many lesser known, but equally ancient forms of folk operas.

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

Malaysia's Tong Gek Lau Choon Teochew Opera Troupe

Today I went to Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Tong Temple to catch Malaysia's Tong Gek Lau Choon Teochew Opera Troupe (中玉楼春潮剧团) in performance. According to some sources, this troupe is a very famous troupe in Malaysia which had performed in various states across the Malay peninsula. The moment I reached the temple at about a quarter past seven, the troupe had already started performing, and I was surprised to find out that only very limited seats were left for their opening night's show!

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.

Scenes from "Premier of the Six Kingdoms"

The overwhelming crowd

This is one of the better actresses who has a very good sense of rhythm and her singing is not bad; however I overheard someone next to me said "She has a good voice, but she should go lose some weight!"

The Chinese opera circle is indeed very small; the actor on the left is Nop, an ex-opera colleague of my Thai friend Oh, who used to perform Teochew opera in Thailand

The female lead of the show

Video from "Premier of the Six Kingdoms"