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"