Sun 26 Jan 2014
Mon 18 Feb 2013
Today I checked out the Beijing Zoo. My conclusion is that their motto was “The bigger, the better!” again, just look at this gigantic lion!
But here come the stars of the zoo:
Here you can see four panda videos:
You can download another one from here: http://www.mediafire.com/?29o48b80xxi3j
The last picture I had to add, I think it’s so Chinese… Happy bronze band in front of the Aquarium.
Sat 5 Jan 2013
Hello Chinese Opera fans,
Finally I decided to finish the fourth part of my trip report. The last few months were so hectic for me that I won’t even try to elaborate on that, and I won’t say sorry repeatedly for being so slow, it makes no sense.
Yesterday I found this article from last month in Beijing Daily, it’s about the Sicily performances – there’s a somewhat funny segment in the article I would like to translate (and here I do say sorry for my Chinhunglish):
“After the opening performance in Catania, The Zhao Orphan, it’s was already very early in the morning, around 1 o’clock, when a girl from Hungary, Nora, rushed backstage, chasing after her idols, Li Hongtu and Zhu Qiang for a group photo.
Previously this year in July, Red Cliff was staged in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic, after seeing Red Cliff in Hungary, Nora immediately became a Li Hongtu and Zhu Qiang fan, and after hearing that they would later perform in Sicily, she hurriedly bought a plane ticket because she wanted to see all four performances.
As expected, the next day before Lü Bu and Diaochan, she arrived to the theater very early. The Head of the Beijing Jingju Theater, Li Enjie, has already sent an invitation to Nora, asking her to come to Beijing to see jingju.”
This is the evening edition, it has the same text:
Well, I got an invitation (but no invitation letter), we will see it will work out or not.
True that, I arrived to the theater early each day, except the last one. I thought why should I wait there, I won’t meet anyone, so I arrived just in time for the performance, and after curtain call I left immediately. Sure enough that next day I got a message from Zhu Qiang: “I was waiting for you before the performance, but couldn’t see you coming.” That much about my brilliant intuitions. I really wanted to say good-bye, especially that this is one of the few Chinese phrases I can pronounce properly.
Program of the last night was a real classic tale: Legend of the White Snake. I don’t think that any recurring visitor here will ask: “What’s that all about?”
Considering the set of performers available in Sicily, easy to guess that Bai Suzhen (White Snake) was played by Zhang Huifang, Xu Xian by Li Hongtu, Xiao Qing (Green Snake) by Li Hongyan, and Fahai (Boo!) by Huang Yanzhong.
Sadly too much time has passed since the performance, but I remember that the theater was full. Unexpectedly the play ended after the Broken Bridge scene, but it was long enough either way.
Shy Bai, shy Xu
What’s more romantic than sharing an umbrella?
Huang Baixue as the boatman – bravo!
I think this photo is pretty cute.
“Your wife is a snake demon, deal with it.”
During the performance, Li Hongtu made the audience giggle several times, his Xu Xian was naive and gullible. Sicily spectators considered his sniffing during the Broken Bridge scene a highlight, and laughed loudly.
After Stealing the Magical Mushroom, there was an intermission. Suddenly I remembered the “second floor middle” hint, and using the zoom on my camera, luckily discovered Ye Shaolan up there. Certainly took a few photos right there, the one below is really cute, with Mr. Ye on the right (on the left in the background is Li Enjie, the other gentleman I don’t recognize):
A few minutes later he left, and I thought if this is a washroom break, the right moment has arrived. I proceeded to the corridor, and took my tactical position. And guess what, he really showed up! He was smiling at me when I approached him, and was a bit surprised when I handed him a pen and paper. I got the autograph I was longing for, and even took a photo, Bertrand already posted that.
No-one was there to take a joint photo, but I didn’t really mind, actually I didn’t want to ruin the photo with my unpolished grin. Then he said good bye, and my right angled bowing made him smile again. I can’t help, it was just natural instinct.
The performance continued with a fight again: Green Snake and White Snake flooded Fahai’s temple. The audience was fascinated by the spectacular spear-kicking act, as far as I noticed, no spears were dropped, though there was a tight catch.
The snake sisters flood the temple, Xu Xian has to run for his life. The upset Green Snake chases him to the Broken Bridge, but the White Snake, although badly hurt, is still in love with him, so she convinces her sister to spare Xu’s life.
Do you want to see all this? Then click the links below, I recorded this scene – but beware, it’s a totally amateur video with a huge Sicilian fan and spectators’ heads in the view. It’s better interesting than splendid, some kind of souvenir from Fern.
As I mentioned before, after the performance I left immediately, and hurried back to my little room. I’m sorry to say, but I can’t remember what happened later, next day I went sightseeing, meanwhile the troupe arrived to Cosenza and met a very cultured audience.
Next day, very early in the morning I successfully made my way to the airport, and had a smooth flight home – that’s all folks!
I still couldn’t find a good closing catchphrase…
PS. OK, I found another evening edition from October:
Li Hongtu: In these years I visited many places around the world, I came across many of these kind of girls like Nora from Hungary. This year in July we staged Red Cliff in Germany, [...] a German spectator found me backstage, incessantly saying: “I was moved by your voice.”
First column title says: “Foreigner fangirl chasing (the troupe to) Italy”…
Now I really want to know actually what kind of girl I am…
Thu 1 Nov 2012
Although they are accustomed to the sight of gappy rows of seats back home, from some online chatting my impression was that the Chinese Beijing Opera performers in Sicily were a bit disappointed in the first two days. (However they really enjoyed the sightseeing and amusements offered by the beautiful Sicilian seaside and hotel bars. Below: Wu Haoyi poses in the cool ocean breeze. Zhu Qiang plays Lorelei.)
I’m convinced that the main cause of the initial lacklustre attendance was poor advertising — the crushing heat in the theatre and free admittance scheme only compounded this issue.
On the third evening, I expected more or less the same amount of people as before, but to my surprise and great pleasure, visitors arrived in hoards to the theatre, filling up all floor levels. Theatre staff had a hard time getting all the people seated, a little girl was sitting on the lap of her mother, and a couple couldn’t find seats next to each other.
On the picture below, in the middle you can see the most sympathetic duo in the audience, this girl and her man came every day to see Beijing Opera, they were very enthusiastic, the girl always wore a qipao:
Possibly this sudden twist was the result of hearsay spreading through the streets of Catania (or television report buzz).
This evening’s program was a Beijing Opera highlights performance that consisted of four segments from possibly the most well-known plays in the West. They had multiple advantages: they were neither too long nor dialog-packed.
The first was a well-known, yet unique martial play, At the Crossroads《三岔口》. It’s impossible to get bored with the two sympathetic protagonists fighting in the dark, heroic and funny at the same time. Of course, you have to imagine it’s night-time and completely dark in the room.
In the beginning the audience couldn’t resist teehee-ing while watching Ren Tanghui and Liu Lihua, but later as the combat got fiercer and fiercer, they started to yell out loud whenever they saw something spectacular.
Too bad I couldn’t make photos, at this point I was closely monitored by a theatre pit-bull. In the first part of the Sicily posts, you can see Zhang Qingsong and Zhou Enxu on the picture with the bishop.
After we check marked wuchou and wusheng on the role representation list, there came the huashan: a Mei school classic, The Drunken Concubine《贵妃醉酒》. When you start to listen to Beijing Opera, you are fated to meet this gem in a week or sooner. I bet if you give it a go in the Search box, it will pop up several results.
Trivia question: From this selection of palace maids, how many are boys? I couldn’t decide.
Sicily audiences were apparently very fond of the idea that a beautiful woman deliberately gets tipsy. When Zhang Huifang as Guifei declared that this night she will get drunk, the audience was giggling. Later when servants took turns, offering different kinds of wines, and finally all ended up on Guifei’s table, they were already laughing. Naturally the “leaning back to empty a glass of wine” scene was also a hit.
The program was compiled really carefully, the next short play offered something interesting again. In the Costumes posts, we briefly discussed Mei Lanfang’s costume creations, the ancient-style dress and the ”cloud terrace” clothes. In the next segment, Tan Mingxin (谭茗心) performed Heavenly Goddess Showering Flowers《天女散花》, wearing one of these “Mei Lanfang revisionist costumes”, creating stunning visual effects with long, rainbow-colored ribbons.
Mei Lanfang is well-known for his innovative spirit. He experimented with stage lighting, set design and costumes, even “inventing” a new type of role, the previously mentioned huashan. Zhou Xinfang raised prop usage to a whole new level, and Ma Lianliang designed a complete series of “fancified” costumes for the laosheng role – however not every innovation proved to be successful: have I already mentioned those square-shaped banners? Recently I saw two old photos with both Ma Lianliang and Zhou Xinfang wearing full kao (armor) with banners attached – but all the flags were rectangle-shaped, really a sore sight, no wonder this experiment quickly sunk into oblivion! Only time will decide which of the new ideas and approaches put forth nowadays will prove worthy to be kept. Obviously there will be some changes that will dishearten some opera lovers, but audiences (and market demand) ultimately will decide.
And now we arrived to the highlight of the evening, driving the already jolly Sicilian audience absolutely crazy. I haven’t mentioned this before, but during this evening – for the first time – spectators took the advice given by the host, i.e. to yell, “Hao!” when you like something! Applaud when something spectacular happens! Of course the westerners always did this at the most inappropriate times, such as at the start of an aria or dialog, or at moments when full silence was needed… However I’m sure the performers didn’t mind, on the contrary, I think they really appreciated these efforts.
As it was written in the sky (or as Hungarians say less poetically, “Bejött a papírforma” (the official paperwork has arrived), the biggest hit of the show was Sun Wukong, fighting the eighteen arhats.
Wang Wenzeng (王文增), who by interesting coincidence had his birthday that day, was playing the Monkey King, and he did a good job. He was funny, naughty, acrobatic, fun to watch. The arhats and “animal” performers: oh my, they were all hilarious! The audience was laughing hard, they especially liked the thin as a match luohan, claiming himself to be very powerful. On the picture below, you can see him on the very right:
I don’t know who the somewhat overfed tiger was, but I found him very cute.
Yu school laosheng Wang Peiyu never performs in newly written plays or model works. You can depict Yu Shuyan with one word: literati. Way back when, he suggested to Li Shaochun to give up “monkey business” and concentrate on other things, but he resisted. This caused some friction between master and student, but most likely I’m not alone in the opinion that Li Shaochun’s is the most scintillating Monkey King in Beijing Opera history, enchanting both mainland and overseas audiences. It would have been a pity to abandon this role.
All in all, this evening was a full success. Spectators stood up and applauded for a long time, yelling Bravo! and Hao!, Wang Wenzeng was obviously the audience favorite. I hope this warm welcome somewhat made it up to him for celebrating birthday far away from home, family and friends.
Surprisingly, this time I didn’t lose my way in the city again. When I arrived back to my safe and friendly little room, I came online and got to know that Ye Shaolan, who is pretty much one of my idols, is also in Italy, and was personally supervising the staging of Lü Bu and Diaochan.
Naturally I got rather upset that I missed the opportunity to meet him, but upon some whining I got the hint that the day before he was watching Li Hongtu’s production from second floor middle. This information proved to be very valuable next day, resulting in a successful hunt - Bertrand already made a post about this “big catch” of mine.
Well, at least for me it was big!
I don’t promise the final part of my trip report will arrive with light speed, but I’ll work on it. To compensate you for waiting, I’ll post a video in that: some snaky snack.
So, stay tuned…
Mon 15 Oct 2012
When watching the semi-finals of this year’s CCTV jingju competition, both Bertrand and me concluded that the most original excerpt presented in the qingyi section was the memorable spear duel from a Sui dynasty story,《虹霓关》Hongniguan (Rainbow Pass), performed by the charismatic Gao Hongmei and the lady-killer Yang Nan.
I think Bertrand won’t mind if I quote his comment about this scene:
how original! how oriental! how wonderful!
Here are a few photos of them, shot by shanchengzi:
You all know well my English is poor, so I was literally jumping up and down in my chair when I found a short description of the story at the site of Paul and Bernice Noll.
Hereby I copy-paste it, sparing myself lots of suffering:
A band of outlaws attack a pass. Sui general Xin Wenli (辛文礼), the garrison commander, is shot to death by Wang Bodang (王伯当), one of the outlaws. Xin’s wife Dongfang Shi (东方氏), also a skilled warrior, assumes command and captures Wang Bodang.
Instead of killing her prisoner to avenge the death of her husband, she falls in love with the handsome young man and sends her maid to persuade him to surrender and marry her. Wang Bodang pretends to agree, but on their wedding night he chides Dongfang for her unfaithfulness and kills her.
Beijing Opera masters of the past, like Wang Yaoqing (王瑶卿), Mei Lanfang (梅兰芳), Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋) and Shang Xiaoyun (尚小云) all performed this classic traditional theater piece.
On the photo below, you can see Cheng Yanqiu as the servant maid, Shang Xiaoyun as Mrs. Dongfang, and (I had hardships to recognize) Mei Lanfang as Wang Bodang:
In the Mei Lanfang edition, he played the role of Mrs. Dongfang in the first act, and the servant maid in the second, thus always playing the more laborious character. This method is commonly referred to as “一赶二”, “one overtaking the another”. Do you remember Zhou Youjun’s Wujiapo that Bertrand posted earlier? That’s also “yi gan er”.
It’s worth to check out this page, it has a beautiful collection of photos with Mei Lanfang’s Rainbow Pass: http://2009.1926cn.com/photo/b/photo_239.shtml
It’s a bit slow-loading though.
In former times, actors wore kao (armor) when performing this segment, nowadays they all wear jianyi (archer clothes).
The next video is a “lipsynched” one: a short excerpt performed by Taiwan’s celebrity Mei school qingyi, Wei Haimin (魏海敏). The sound recording is Mei Lanfang’s servant maid, from 1920.
Click here to download the video. (Somewhat improved with Handbrake.)
We have another great material here! Repertoire of the fourth “great dan performer”, Xun Huisheng (荀慧生) didn’t miss Rainbow Pass either. In our next video, Xun’s own student, the lovely Sun Yumin (孙毓敏) lectures on Xun school art, and we can watch the spear duel of Xun Huisheng from Rainbow Pass, performed by Gong Suping (龚苏萍).
I didn’t want to cut the video in half, so in the second part you can check out a segment from The Two You Sisters of the Red Mansion, lipsynched by Xiong Mingxia (熊明霞).
I hope you will enjoy this quickie.
Thu 11 Oct 2012
It’s disappointing how quickly memories fade away… Leaning on my notes, messages and e-mails I will try to reconstruct the events of the next few days of my trip.
On the 19th, I woke up in the morning with a completely ruined hairstyle and droopy eyes. I think I spent most of the day in my air conditioned room chatting online and browsing the net.
Some time during the afternoon, I got a phone call from Yu Ning, co-coordinator of Wu Promotion’s European tour management. Later, one hour before the evening performance, we met in the theater hall. She’s an elegant, beautiful young girl who speaks excellent English. She asked me whether I would prefer the German program booklet. When I replied it wouldn’t really make any difference, she was surprised: “But you are from Vienna, aren’t you?” (Later I checked my appearance in the mirror and concluded that I indeed look a bit German.)
Yu Ning tried to comfort me that the TV interview I was to give would be just a short shot with a couple of standard questions. Meanwhile, Zhu Jia, vice-director of BJT’s marketing department stepped up to us, and started to ask me questions in Chinese, supposing that if he’s tried to communicate with me as if I were a toddler, I would understand him. In his own way, he’s a funny guy. Here you can see his most memorable adventure in Munich.
Surprisingly, everyone was interested in the same question: who is my favorite actor from the troupe, who am I chasing after (for an autograph)? I must have improved Zhu Qiang’s popularity index, however I started to feel more than a bit like a fangirl.
BTV’s reporter, Ma Ou, arrived with a sheet of paper and her cameraman. They positioned me with the stage in the background, blinded me with the camera light and with Yu Ning’s help, Mrs. Ma asked me a few really predictable questions, like when did I first encounter Beijing Opera, what do I like the most about it, where do I come from, among the four plays staged in Catania which one did I like the best (note that this was shot before the second performance), and, of course, who is my favorite actor from the troupe?
To satisfy your curiosity: Yu Ning can be seen on the left with a shawl on her shoulders, and the lady in ankle boots on the right is Ma Ou:
In the few minutes left before the performance, business cards were swapped and using the notepad on my phone I exchanged a few “words” with Zhu Jia, who gave me a funny souvenir. I was also made a generous offer as well, but I won’t elaborate on that yet.
I think I haven’t mentioned before that Theater Bellini had no air conditioning… Spectators tried to cool themselves with Sicilian fans, but the poor performers had no chance to do the same, they were soaking in sweat.
This night’s program was another of my favourite plays:《吕布与貂蝉》Lü Bu and Diaochan, with Li Hongtu (李宏图), Wu Haoyi (吴昊颐), Chen Junjie (陈俊杰) and Han Shengcun (韩胜存) in the leading roles. Unfortunately the theater staff was terrorizing me (“No photographs!”), and I could take only a few pictures, mostly during curtain call, and even those didn’t really work out. I made a couple of sound recordings, but Li Hongtu’s frequency (vocal range) needs more serious equipment than my camera.
The story of the opera is more or less the same as in this Wikipedia article.
Unfortunately the odd “vanishing audience phenomenon” recurred: after the intermission and during the performance many spectators left, really few were interested enough to endure the heat and massive xiaosheng segments to the end. However, those that stayed had a great time. Sicilians were especially fond of The Small Reception scene, they were continuously giggling when Lü Bu was courting Diaochan. In this old post of mine you can find a little clip at the end, with Ye Shaolan and Wang Yan performing this particular scene.
I already mentioned that Li Hongtu live sounds much better than in videos or on TV. I know it’s very poor wording, but he was “so Ye” this evening. At ninedragonspot.com you can read a marvelous article about The Small Reception, also the post has two videos of the most famous aria, one with Song Xiaochuan and one with Jiang Qihu.
Below you can see Wu Haoyi’s entry in the next scene after The Small Reception – Wang Yun (Han Shengcun) lures Dong Zhuo into the same trap. This time, the banquet is more luxurious, beautiful young dancer girls occupy the stage. Trivia question: can you guess the title of this scene? You won! It’s “The Great Reception”.
After the curtain call, I hurried back to the safety of my room and desperately tried to resist going online and take a rest instead, but I failed. Next morning my hair and eyes were even worse than the day before…
If you are curious about the last two performances and the sudden positive twist in the quality and quantity of the audience, stay tuned!
Sat 29 Sep 2012
Sorry for being so slow. I’ve returned back from Sicily and will now try to write a decent trip report. To make things easier, I’ll proceed in a chronological order of events.
As Bertrand mentioned here, on the 16th I took a plane and arrived to Catania to see four performances staged by the Beijing Jingju Theater (officially JingJu Theater Company of Beijing), which I will refer to as BJT from now on.
This European tour was arranged by Wu Promotion, the same as for the Red Cliff tour in May. Unfortunately, one week before my trip, the venue, dates and programs were changed, I had to cancel a Palermo hotel reservation and extend the Catania one — fortunately the little apartment where I hired a room was still free for the rest of the week.
On the rather worn flyer above the correct dates are displayed, however the order of the performances was different than mentioned. Instead of “Snake”, “Zhao”, highlights, “Lü Bu”, the actual order of performances was “Zhao”, “Lü Bu”, highlights, “Snake”. Not to mention the “detailed” description of the highlights performance on the flyer was sort of slketchy, i.e. “Crossroad, Flower, Tipsy, 18″. Just for your convenience, this really meant: “At the Crossroads”, “Heavenly Maiden Showering Flowers”, “The Drunken Concubine”, “Eighteen Arhats Fight the Monkey King”.
The website above lists the tour stops as Munich, Catania and Cosenza, but don’t take any information you see on sites run by Chinese administrators for granted. The schedule changes quickly! All of a sudden, a performance was arranged in Rome on the 26th, and yesterday the troupe held another one in Amelia… On the photo below you can see Zhang Qingsong, Zhou Enxu and a Vatican bishop, definitely the oddest jingju group photo I’ve ever seen:
So back to my arrival. After running in circles for half an hour on the Catania airport, I figured out where to buy a ticket for the bus that took me to the inner city. In another half an hour, I found my hotel, actually it was a three-room apartment run by a young married couple. It was very clean, they didn’t bother me in the slightest degree, and the city, the theater, sightseeing highlights all were in the range of a 10-15 minutes walk. Ciuri Ciuri is a cute (and cheap) place to stay if you’re visiting Catania, I recommend.
Look at the ceiling of my room, pretty adorable, isn’t it?
After grabbing a city map from the counter, I threw my gear on the bed and connected to the free WiFi to find out what’s happening. The first performance was on the 18th, so I had one and a half day to explore the city and set up a schedule. Actually that week was so hectic that I didn’t care much about food, I ate whatever was in my reach.
I made several sightseeing photos, but I doubt anyone would be interested in them, here is one of my favorites though, a vintage funeral car:
On the 18th I went to the box office in the intolerable heat and waited half an hour to purchase tickets, then the clerk informed me that all performances are free. I was shocked. I don’t really support free admittance, you all know that people do not appreciate anything that’s thrown into their face for free.
In the evening I headed to theater Bellini with great expectations and without the slightest idea what play will I see. A fair amount of people were waiting in front of the theater, and it seemed everything will be OK.
In the hall you could buy souvenirs, not too attractive shawls decorated with jingju characters, porcelain USB sticks with the BJT logo, stuff like that. There was a little exhibition of costumes too, the signs read “Costume of XY” in Italian, and the name of the given subject in Chinese…
The show was hosted by Francesca Ferro, who is a local celebrity I guess, she was pretty professional, also the intro was well-written and interesting (although I don’t speak Italian). She briefly introduced Beijing Opera, the different roles, the meaning of the main face paint colors, and the invisible jinghu player performed a few typical tunes. Finally two young performers were invited to the stage, don’t ask me who they were, a palace maid and a supporting xiaosheng. First both of them said “Good Evening Everyone!” in Chinese, then they did the same in Beijing Opera style, with the fitting gestures. Naturally, the audience had a great time, and they already knew what to expect in the next few hours.
When Francesca started to explain the storyline, I finally got to know that tonight’s program is The Orphan of the Zhao Family《赵氏孤儿》, starring Li Hongtu as the Zhao orphan, Zhu Qiang as Cheng Ying, Chen Junjie as Wei Jiang, Huang Yanzhong as the evil Tu Angu, Jiang Yishan as Princess Zhuangji, Ni Shengchun as Gongsun Chujiu, Wu Haoyi as the maid Bu Feng, Huang Baixue as Jin Linggong and so on.
The sequence of acts you can read here. In case you’re unfamiliar with Zhaoshi Guer, just a few Google searches will do, this story is very well documented in English.
For my great pleasure, the dog was the beagle:
The audience got in a cheerful mood as soon as the dog appeared, however they soon had to realize this funny-looking animal will trigger a series of misfortune events.
Needless to say, during the whole performance I tried to blink as little as possible, in order not to miss a second. Both the musicians and the actors were amplified correctly, all the dong-dong-qiang wasn’t too loud, you could hear the dialogues and arias properly.
What to say? I enjoyed every moment of this play. I tried to make a few photos and videos, but each time I was warned by some theater staff: “No photo! No photo!” However, I managed to steal a recording of the aria I was waiting for, I converted it to mp4, you can download it below.
Sadly there was an intermission, allowing spectators to go outside and never come back. It’s out of question they didn’t understand the story and therefore they left, the whole opera was fully subtitled in Italian. My guess is that the show wasn’t advertised enough. Without those who left in between, the theater was rather a sore sight. Moreover, the story was tragic, not featuring many splendid looking female characters, I definitely enjoyed the long and sad segments performed by the plainly clothed Zhu Qiang, but I’m afraid the rest of the audience wasn’t so enchanted.
My efforts to hide my feelings utterly failed during the picture book scene. Cheng Ying reveals the truth to the Zhao orphan, first telling the course of events as if it were just an old narrative tale. Later on when he says: “And that man wearing black clothes… that was me.”, I simply couldn’t hold back tears. The strip below contains my four best shots of this scene.
Li Hongtu’s horizontal fainting definitely gained the appreciation of the audience, there was a noticeable uproar when he fell with a big thump. Sicilians also were especially fond of the final scene, when Cheng Ying kicks Tu Angu’s dead body multiple times.
The performance was recorded by BTV, I hope at some point I’ll manage to get a copy. At the end I bought a program booklet and a nice picture album about the BJT, with many gorgeous photos and several spelling mistakes. The letters are golden, never mind the scan below.
With all my new belongings under my arm, I proceeded to the street and waited patiently to get some autographs. This time, I didn’t forget to take a pen with me.
Just like in regular life, men remove their make-up and change clothes much faster than women. The first victim I spotted was Chen Junjie — without shoulder pads, huge platform shoes and scary face paint he’s a tiny little man. First I wasn’t sure it was him, but I recognized his green T-shirt I saw before. He gave me an autograph with a slight smile, in the imaginary bubble above his head I could read “How did this gal figure out it’s me?”
Seeing I was loitering there, the general manager of Wu Promotion, Wu Jiatong, and another gentleman got talking with me, one of them seemed to remember me from Budapest. (I was told later they are father and son but I simply cannot decide who’s the son. :/)
In a minute Zhu Qiang showed up, and although I changed my haircut and his eyesight isn’t very splendid, he recognized me from several meters away and I got a really warm welcome. Naturally everyone got his camera, meanwhile Li Hongtu also appeared and willingly lined up for the group photo, a few other people also started to shoot videos and pictures, actually everything happened very quickly.
Next day I found the picture at Weibo that Bertrand posted before, it’s Wu Jiatong’s version. You know, actually Li Hongtu is smiling, the first photo below proves it. On the second one I desperately tried to seem smaller, thus creating the rather embarrassing effect you see…
I was so happy with the autographs that I got lost in the city in the dark on the way back home, but finally arrived to my hotel room safely.
The next morning I received a personal message from Zhu Qiang, informing me their media would like to make a short interview with me,would I agree?
Just for the sake of operabeijing.com, I agreed. Stay tuned!
-end of part1-
Sat 4 Aug 2012
Tue 10 Jul 2012
Sun 8 Jul 2012
Hello Chinese Opera fans,
I owe you a review. As Bertrand already announced, I had the opportunity to check out a production of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (fancy official name of the Beijing National Grand Theatre), by the performers of China National Peking Opera Company and the Peking Opera Theater of Beijing, staged in the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest. Click here for more information.
CNPOC had made some efforts recently to introduce the term “jingju” to the Western audience, presuming “Beijing Opera” might be misleading. I have foreseen the consequences: Westerners will desperately try to pronounce jingju properly, and each nation ends up with a completely different word.
In the case of Hungarians, the result was tyintyü.
So let’s see this tyintyü, Red Cliff. Bertrand posted a video with the full opera previously, the article features multiple program introductions that summarize neatly what the intentions of NCPA were with this production. As Bertrand noted, it’s a hybrid. Very hybrid. Some segments were 99% traditional Beijing Opera, some had Western opera taste, some left a strong Broadway smell.
I really don’t want to go into details about the heated discussion what’s going on right now at Weibo, many comments are very hardcore, many make sense, however almost none consider the feelings of foreigners, even if the speaker is not genuinely entitled to discuss the matter.
Technically speakings, is Red Cliff jingju? No. Is it acceptable to call it jingju nonetheless, or is it completely deceiving foreigners? Ruining the reputation of China’s national essence? Wasting the taxes payed by Chinese citizens? I don’t think so. Fact one who isn’t familiar with Beijing Opera won’t get a crystal clear picture of it by watching Red Cliff, however it might sparkle some interest in his heart.
Let’s be sincere, how many of us started our Beijing Opera watching career with Yan Jupeng gramophone recordings? You get the point.
Better proceed to my actual report-back.
The show was moderated by popular hungarian actor, Péter Rudolf, widely known for his hip sense of humor. He read out loud a brief introduction about Beijing Opera in general, how it came into being, what are the main roles, everything was correct and well-phrased. He also precisely delineated the story, the Chinese-Hungarian booklet also contained a nice plot summary and detailed cast and crew lists. What’s more, Hungarian translation of the dialogues and arias were displayed during the performance, but I didn’t really watch because I find it distracting, and the screen was too high up for me anyways. Now and then I peeped and the sub seemed to be fair, yet not as good as ninedragonspot’s translations.
As expected, spactators were warned to switch off every mobile phone and camera during the show, I made a few sound recordings but committed the classic rec/pause mix-up mistake in the dark, thus gracefully switching my camera off during Zhu Qiang’s single bigger scene I was waiting for.
Wang Yige (王奕戈), who recently changed her name to 王奕謌 (possibly hinting that she’s a hybrid performer herself, singing also in Western and folk style), delivered a marvelous intro and outro from the orchestra pit, although the songs had nothing to do with traditional jingju, fitted the general feeling of the whole opera.
Wang Yige wore an elegant yet somewhat revealing black dress, with lots of tastefully arranged jewelry. I had a first row seat, so I could effortlessly have a close look at the musicians, instruments and scores. Almost every fellow citizen did the same in the intermission, actually scores and instrumentation seemed to be the biggest hit, discussed animatedly by spectators.
I was wedged between senior ladies (who constantly whine about their pension, yet can afford a ticket that costs 10% of the wage of an average Hungarian citizen), I think they really enjoyed the performance, although they commented that the gongs and drums are too loud, and Li Hongtu’s voice perforates their eardrums. I restrained myself from retorting “What if they would have brought Jin Xiquan?”, it would have been pointless. Li Hongtu surely left a good impression on me, I liked him much better live than on videos.
All in all everyone was amplified optimally, except Zhang Jianfeng, somehow I couldn’t hear him properly. It’s a pity since I choose this performance instead of the Yu Kuizhi-Li Shengsu version because I wanted to check out this young Xi school laosheng on the spot.
This show was featuring many-many performers, most of them spent only a few minutes on the stage, I felt this is some kind of waste, I couldn’t hear Du Zhe or Zhang Kai sing a paragraph of reasonable length. However I caught sight of my beloved Zhan Lei in the crowd of soldiers, also he had a short armor-less fighting scene later. Sun Shangxiang was played by Zhang Shujing, pauvre petite dropped her spear once, this was the single bigger flaw I noticed during this show.
I won’t elaborate on the story of Red Cliff, you could see exactly the same performance in the previously posted video. I may add that the stage sets are not that huge and distracting as they seem.
Embarrassing moment during the performance:
In one of the scenes of Xiao Qiao (portrayed by Dou Xiaoxuan) and Zhou Yu (portrayed by Li Hongtu), Zhou lets out a really squeaky “Niangziiii!” (My wife!). This moment was rewarded with a noticeably loud laughter by one of my fellow citizens, I wished to crawl under a rock and explode there.
However, Li Shengsu was very satisfied with the audience previous day, she said during her 30 years career of performing Beijing Opera, she never met such warm welcome. PR or not, at least our town won’t go down in history like the place populated by barbarians.
A few photos that aren’t too blurry for your viewing pleasure:
During curtain call, I handed my little packet with a plush toy to one of the musicians, asking him to forward it to Zhu Qiang. For my relief he was pretty enthusiastic about the unexpected task, and kept his word because after everyone removed make-up in Planck time and the performers were dragging themselves to the tour bus, I spotted Zhu Qiang examining my plushie.
Of course I took the opportunity to ask for a photo and introduced myself with my online nickname. Previously we exchanged a few messages and although I mentioned I’m foreigner, he thought I’m ethnic Chinese.
He was talking to me fairly enthusiastically, I was just nodding continuously, repeating “I don’t really understand”, finally after taking a few photos we parted with the conclusion it will be better to keep contact online in written form. God bless the net. (I finally got back that “Follow” I was longing for. XD)
I’m not very fond of exposing my appearance on the net, yet I don’t think it would be fair to not post a photo, so here it is:
On the picture with Li Hongtu I look so horrible that first I didn’t want to share it, but managed to handle the issue:
Meanwhile the whole cast and crew arrived to Prague, the hotel is somewhat far from the inner city but they are doing fine.
2012-07-12 Everyone returned to Beijing in order.