Friday, April 20, 2007

Wuxi Opera excerpt: "Yuanzai Acknowledges His Mother" from "The Jade Dragonfly"

"The Jade Dragonfly" is a very well-known folktale in the Jiangsu/ Zhejiang region and has been adapted into various opera genres, including Shaoxing Yue opera, Wuxi opera, Yangzhou opera and Fujian Minju opera.

The story goes like this: Scholar Shen Guisheng came from a humble background, and in order to secure a better future for his clan, his relatives had him engaged to Lady Zhang, the daughter of a high-ranking official. However, due to character differences, their marriage was not at all blissful, and they were always quarreling. One day, Shen Guisheng decided to leave his home for sightseeing, and chanced upon a beautiful nun called Zhizhen. Shen Guisheng kept proposing to Zhizhen, and unable to resist his love, they started an forbidden relationship. Lady Zhang got tipped off that Shen Guisheng had been seen visiting Zhizhen's Fahua Nunnery, and brought her maids to come in search for him. Shen Guisheng was not found, and Lady Zhang returned home heartbrokened. Shen Guisheng, however, died of fright that very day, leaving the already pregnant Zhizhen behind. After secretly given birth to Guisheng's only son, Zhizhen decided to send the baby away to Lady Zhang, as a form of apology for "stealing" her husband, and also because there was no way she could keep her son in the nunnery. The nunnery helper, who was asked to send the baby over, did not do her job, and instead abandoned him by the side of the road. Luckily for the baby, he was found by the Xu household, who adopted him as their own son and called him Xu Yuanzai. Years later, members of the Shen household saw Yuanzai by chance, and was surprised that he looked just that Shen Guisheng. Lady Zhang then decided to adopt him as a foster son. A few years later, after Yuanzai become a village scholar, both Xu and Shen family started to fight over who should be the rightful "guardian" of him. This was then Yuanzai knew that he was neither the son of Madam Xu or Lady Zhang. After much findings, he found out that his mother was in fact Zhizhen, and decided to go to Fahua Nunnery to acknowledge her. Mother and son finally got reunited, and Shen Guisheng's death, which had been a mystery to Lady Zhang for over a decade, finally came to light. She was initially furious over the whole incident, and even accused Zhizhen of breaking up her family. However, after much self-thought, she realised that Zhizhen's plight was much worse than her; although Lady Zhang has got a foster son to acompany her for the past 16 years, Zhizhen had been weeping night after night missing her lost son. She finally decided to let the past rest, and acknowledged Zhizhen as the rightful mother to her foster son.

This clip here was taken from the production by Wuxi City Wuxi Opera troupe. Taking on the role of Zhizhen is Xie Zhiying, while the role of Xu Yuanzai was assumed by Pan Jingqiong. Xie Zhiying is a veteran actress in the troupe specialising in Qingyi roles, although in "The Pearl Pagoda", her portrayal of the clownish Fang Duohua was equally good. Pan Jingqiong is one of the up and coming actors in the troupe, specialising in both xiaosheng and laosheng roles. However, do not be fooled by his looks; he's actually over 40 years old already! I don't quite know why he only come to this far now at this age, but I supposed previously he has been overshadowed by another actor Xiao-Wang Binbin (son of famous Wuxi opera actor Wang Binbin), who had been the leading male actor since the late 80s.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Multiple Faces of Hokkien Gezi Opera (XiangJu): "The Egretta Garzetta Goddess"

The Hokkien Gezi Opera (Xiangju) is the only Chinese opera genre that is borned outside mainland China, in Taiwan. Being one of the youngest Chinese opera genres, it is a very versatile opera genre that is able to adapt to different performance style.

Produced by Xiamen Municipality Gezi Opera Troupe in 2000, "The Egretta Garzetta Goddess" depicts a well-known legend of how Xiamen Island, also known as "Island of Egretta garzetta" was formed. Legend has it that the island was formerly an unknown island. A egretta garzetta fairy met and fell in love with a mortal who was known to be able to churn melodious music. A snake demoness got jealous of their love and tried to seperate them. The mortal was transformed into a rock while the egretta garzetta sacrificed her life to save her lover. This island was later known as "Island of Egretta Garzetta" in honour of this egretta garzetta fairy.

This show is unique in the sense that the show's music was accompanied mainly using symphonic orchestra and Chinese orchestra as supporting. In terms of performance style, it incorporated alot of western musical essence too.