(originally published on: Apr 16, 2010)

Download the video here.

Here is a repost of one of my dozen top picks from all the posts on this web site.

It’s a brief two minute clip of the top two Beijing Opera stars Li Shengsu 李胜素 and Yu Kuizhi 于魁智 singing the famous aria from the opera 《四郎探母》Silang Tan Mu (Silang Visits his Mother).

This is one of the most well-known arias in the Chinese repertoire. An  English subtitled video of the complete opera featuring these two artists (along with one of my favorite actresses, Li Haiyan 李海燕, playing the evil mother-in-law Empress Meng) can be found here.

The video is from a live concert, excerpted from the Spring of the Pear Garden Operatic School Concert of Graduates Region 5 only DVD that my friend Zach purchased for me in China.

This is an mp4 extension video, and the file size is 60 MB.



(originally published on: Jun 20, 2011)(Updated 2013-09-21 to fix broken video and MP3 links)

Li Haiyan

More from a singer I’m really getting to like a lot, Li Haiyan. We saw her a while back in the “Flowers Fragrant” post. Fern has another nice video of her here.

First, a 5 minute video clip from the opera “Ying Tai Kang Hun” or “Yingtai against marriage” or “Zhu Yingtai Resists Marriage” (英台抗婚).

A DVD of this particular performance can be purchased here. This production has nice close-ups and good sound, but is a typically low-budget production with spectators chatting in the background… Still, I was very happy to receive it on the very day the letter carriers at Canada Post walked out on strike. Whew!

I’m a sucker for drama, and this is as good as it gets. Li Haiyan plays a character who has been delivered news not to her liking at all! No prince charming for her this lifetime.

The story, from the Fern Encyclopedia:

Zhu Yingtai and Liang Shanbo have been classmates in Phoenix Hill for three years and have grown to be very close. At their parting, Yingtai invents the existence of a sister and tells Shanbo to come and propose within a hundred days.

When Yingtai gets home, she is unaware that her father has betrothed her to the son of the Ma family. One day when she sees the betrothal gifts, she mistakes them to be Shanbo’s and is happy and shy. She is shocked and indignant when she knows the truth, and objects to the arranged marriage. Father and daughter fall out.

After seeing Yingtai and having told the irreversible situation, Shanbo dies of a broken heart. A tearful Yingtai mourns Shanbo in front of his grave.

Superb vocal control, solid acting. And what a great voice! There is a lot of feeling here. The audience roars approval, the orchestra sweeps beautifully in the background. Ah!

Download the video here. The file format is mp4, and can be viewed using VLC. File size is 143 MB.

The video ends before curtain call, surely Madame Haiyan received a bouquet for this performance?

Before I leave you with a couple of nice photos of Li Haiyan, here is an MP3 of the first track off her quite hard to find CD, “Peking Opera Stars – Li Haiyan“. I received my CD (not from my favorite online store I hasten to add) with the jewel case crushed into tiny pieces… You’re lucky to hear this!

Download the MP3 here.

Li Haiyan in Cai Wenji

Li Haiyan

Li Haiyan

If you’re like me, you will be left wanting to hear more from Li Haiyan.


(update 2011-06-25) Fern spotted Li Haiyan singing oh-so-briefly at around 3 minutes into a video clip at:

She was looking sharp!

Li Haiyan

With referral to an external post, I would like to present here a few scenes from a play I liked very much. You can buy a copy here if you’re fond of tasteful innovation. All videos were converted to MP4 with Handbrake, and suffered only minimal deinterlacing loss. Summaries in English were found at .

《宰相刘罗锅》Zaixiang Liu Luoguo (Prime Minister Humpbacked Liu)

Download videos here: [Scene1] [Scene2] [Scene3] [Scene4] [Scene5]
File size: 153MB, 212MB, 94MB, 74MB, 123MB respectively, 708×480

Chapter I — Debut

Emperor Qianlong attempted the daughter of the Sixth Grand Prince to become his concubine. However, the princess hated to be restrained by rules and manners in the royal court. As a master of chess playing, she intended to take the initiative by selecting her husband through chess playing in the chess court. Liu Yong (Hunchback Liu), who arrived in Beijing for the Imperial Examination (The feudal society of china employed the Imperial Examination System to select officials from intellectuals), ran into the chess court and won the game. But then he was driven into a dilemma by Emperor Qianlong, traveling in disguise, who argued for another game. In the Imperial Examination, Courtier He Shen pulled strings behind the scenes so that Liu Yong failed. But He Shen’s conspiracy was exposed by Liu Yong. He Shen tried hard to drive Liu Yong to a dead end. Eventually, when Liu Yong succeeded in passing the exam and was holding the wedding ceremony, Emperor Qianlong and Courtier He Shen showed up without notice. What will be the fate of Liu Yong?

Liu Yong has to face the worst wedding night ever: not only his father-in-law returns twice to talk to his daughter, but the Emperor also shows up. Princess Gege is spending the night with playing chess. At least, Liu Yong gets a funny wedding present in matryoshka boxes.

“Little shoes!” (Chen Shaoyun)

Chapter II — Night Interrogation

Jiangsu provincial governor Ye Guotai committed embezzlement by misreporting the thirty-li (one li is about 500 meters) river embankment as eight hundred-li. When Emperor Qianlong made an inspection tour in southern areas to the Yangtze River, Ye Guotai and He Shen conspired to block the way. Liu Yong, as magistrate of Jiangning, strived to break their plot. Right then, the Emperor caught sight of a beauty Yin Hong, passing by on a boat. Qianlong chased after the beauty to the Qinxin Mansion, ran into conflict with a bully Shi Jinghu there and brought him to death for his vicious behavior. Then Qianlong and He Shen were put into jail accidentally by Zhang Cheng. Ye Guotai meant to play both ends against the middle, dictating Liu Yong to punish severely on the case. Liu Yong had quick wits to hold night interrogation to free Qianlong from jail and to expose the embezzlement by Ye Guotai.

The Emperor falls for the beautiful Yin Hong, and tries to seduce her with sweet words. Later he accidentally kills a village bully, Shi Jinghu in a battle of love, and gets arrested.

Qianlong wears rose-tinted glasses. (Li Yan, Zhang Huifang)

Gege’s father gets drunk and shows us his vocal abilities. The Princess isn’t pleased. Liu Yong returns with the bad news – some serious watersleeves twirling goes on.

“Daddy, please stop singing!” (Ma Zengshou, Dong Yuanyuan)

“What should we do now?” (Chen Shaoyun)

Chapter III — Plum Chanting

In believing that a heavy snow foretells a big harvest, Emperor Qianlong began to intone a poem spontaneously and then got stuck. Liu Yong moved on to consummate the poem. Qianlong agreeably accepted it. He Shen was very jealous of Liu’s talent. Then Liu Yong’s wife, the princess, compiled the poem into Liu Yong’s collection of works by chance. He Shen took advantage of the incident and threw Liu Yong into jail, intending to put him in a fatal position. The Emperor pretended to grant Liu Yong a sword to commit suicide, meaning to cutting down his pride and overconfidence. Liu Yong and the Princess exercised their intelligence to free themselves from the hot water, winning back the emperor’s favor, and putting He Shen in an embarrassing position.

Scene4 and 5
These come with a different cast.

Wang Rongrong plays the Princess.

A hardly recognizable unbearded Zhu Qiang as Emperor Qianlong.

Du Zhenjie as Liu Yong isn’t too happy about the “harakiri sword” he just got.

Contrary, the treacherous He Shen is overjoyed. A surprisingly lean Meng Guanglu without face paint. (Neither jing nor chou performers wear their usual make-up in this play.)

That’s all for today folks, I hope you had fun. ^^

(originally published on: Jun 12, 2011)(Updated 2013-04-23 to fix broken links)

I had a cathartic moment listening to Zhang Huoding a few years ago, which totally turned me on to Beijing Opera. I was already interested in the genre, but hadn’t really latched on to any performers. Then I saw a video of an aria from the Unicorn Purse and I was hooked.

I started to surf the web to find out more about this performer.

Initially, turning up anything was hard because of Chinese characters and my zero-level Mandarin. But eventually, I started stumbling on nice videos. Among the very first videos I downloaded were clips from the cinematic version of the “White Snake” with Zhang Huoding.

It is a quality filmed version of the play, with nice camera work and pleasing colors. It captures my favorite opera singer in great close-up singing a traditional role she has basically made her own.

About a year later, my friend Zach managed to purchase a copy of the DVD for me  in China (may fortune fall on your shoulders, Zach). This DVD now seems hard to find, no doubt because it is popular.

Zhang Huoding's "White Snake" DVD, a prized possession

It’s a glorious production.

Today I want to present a small clip from it, the pantomimed boat ride where the white snake, transformed into a beautiful woman, falls in love with a human. It’s lovely on many levels, the group imitating a rocking boat, the servant becoming the matchmaker, the singing.

There is a lot of wisdom in the symbolism of these two falling in love and getting married. People change over time, and when you get married you can’t really tell what the future holds. Certainly when my wife married me 21 years ago this week, heaven help her she had no idea what she was getting into.

Zhang and Song rock the boat

Click here to download the clip. File size is 112 MB and the video format is mp4, which can be played with VLC.


(originally published on: Apr 10, 2011) (Updated 2013-04-23 to fix broken links)

Zhang Huoding

One day all Beijing Opera DVDs will be in HD with great sound. I have yet the see the first one, though.

Today I am posting a video featuring Zhang Huoding singing an aria from an opera I am not familiar with. She’s wearing imperial yellow with a fur headdress, so I am guessing the story is set during the Han dynasty. Her performance is superb.

This is an excerpt from a purchased DVD which has very bad sound. I don’t have a “accidentally bad copy” of the DVD, I actually have two copies of the same DVD. The first one popped out of its holder during shipping and was scuffed badly by rattling in its case, damaging it so a third of the disk was unplayable. I ordered a second copy elsewhere a year later. Both copies are flawed in the same way, they have terrible loud and distorted sound.

This clip, rather quiet in nature, only has one or two brief moments where the distortion is apparent . Warning: the sound on this video is TOO LOUD! Bring down your volume before playing this clip!

The MP4 video is about 14 minutes long, about 200 MB in size, and can be viewed using VLC.

Click here to download the video.


(originally published on: Apr 9, 2011)


This is a post I plan to update once in a while. Here are my recommendations for buying Beijing opera online.

It should be noted I live in North America. Fern was just telling me many online stores refuse to ship to Eastern Europe.

Right now, April 2011, my favorite place to shop for Beijing Opera is book-wholesale.com, for several reasons:

  • they accept Paypal
  • they have a superb selection of what I want, i.e. hard-to-find Zhang Huoding, Li Shengsu and Yu Kuizhi material
  • the packing is absolutely top notch
  • they have very good prices

I’ve ordered twice from them and will do so again this weekend. It takes about 6 to 8 weeks for the parcel to arrive from China. So no overnight delivery!

I’ve ordered once from buyoyo.com in Hong Kong as well. Right now, you can get Zhang Huoding’s traditional arias CD for less than 6 dollars. Very good follow up, packing is all right. Their web site is not very searchable, and at least one item is mis-labeled — that’s Guo Wei singing the role that Zhang Huoding made famous on the DVD, not Zhang Huoding herself! But I would happily order from them again.

I ordered once from yesasia.com, they have a top notch English-language version web site. Unfortunately they have little product originating from Beijing. It’s the best place for Cantonese Opera, however. I ordered Director John Woo’s digitally remastered DVD “Princess Chang Ping” starring Lung Kim Sang and Mui Suet Si there, which was inexpensive, a very good English subtitled copy. I realized a third of the way into the picture the prince is a trouser role (doh!) This movie was a good evening’s entertainment to accompany a Chinese dinner.

I’ve said it before, the book “Beijing Opera Costumes: The Visual Communication of Character and Culture” by Alexandra Bonds is a must. It’s a steal at Amazon. I wish she would write a sequel! Large excerpts from this book can be viewed online here.

(update 2011-04-25)


Today was a sunny Easter Monday here where I live.

It got sunnier when I found a big Fedex package at my door. My Zhang Huoding photo art book arrived!

It comes in a grey polyester duku.cn tote bag (the publishing company of the book), along with a little cardboard box of 12 high quality glossy postcards I will never ever put in a post box.

A big slipcase box contains the two volumes shrink-wrapped in plastic for freshness. The volumes are square, about 11.5 inches to a side. The cover is a plain pink soft cover cardboard that belie what’s inside — high quality glossy full page color photographs about the same quality as you would get in an issue of the National Geographic.

There are 358 pages total, the numbering of volume 2 resumes where the numbering of volume 1 left off.

I was a bit leery beforehand that one volume would be devoted to photographs of traditional opera and the second volume to photographs of modern operas, but thankfully only about 50 pages of volume 2 are devoted to modern opera. The editors did their duty but clearly they agree with me that traditional Beijing opera is where Zhang Huoding shines brightest.

This book is absolutely a labour of love. I read it took two years and a fortune to shoot, and it shows.

Incredibly, I received my copy absolutely intact in 8 days from Hangzhou, China to Canada’s east coast, defensively packed with love. The book is available right now from book-wholesale.com who gave me terrific service in response to a special request. Thank you!

My highest recommendations.


(originally published on: Apr 28, 2010)

Click here to download the video.

This is a 4 minute clip from the opera “Dream of the Spring Chamber” featuring Zhang Huoding, proving here why she is perhaps the greatest living opera actress on the planet today.

When I look at this clip, I remember a scene from a silent movie featuring the great Russian actress Alla Nazimova. The movie was Nazimova’s lavish production of “Salomé” and it builds up to the scene where of course Salomé dances seductively to get her way. When the scene finally arrives, Alla Nazimova breaks into a sort of ridiculous Charleston!

Such is not the case with “Dream of the Spring Chamber“. This brief clip begins with Zhang Huoding crouching on the floor, beginning to sing a mournful aria. Then she will rise and dance… Mesmerizing! Hypnotic! Breathtaking! The audience roars twice and there is scattered applause throughout. It makes you wonder how many marriage proposals Zhang Huoding has to field after a performance like this.

This clip is from a DVD that can be purchased in North America here.

(update 2011-07-31) Price currently $13.95 !

I have purchased from CGC Mall before using Paypal, and find they have excellent service. However buyer beware, the DVD is region 5 only, so in addition to paying multiple times the street price in China, you will probably have to rip the DVD on your computer in order to watch it. I recommend Daniusoft’s DVD ripper to do this.  Is it worth it? But of course!!!

The clip is the highest quality I could make it to diminish blurring of quick movements, and the .mp4 file size is 110 MB.

I don’t even have to add that I hope you enjoy this.  I know you will.

(originally published on: Apr 3, 2010)
(link corrected 2013-05-13)

Click here to download the video.

Zhang Huoding at the Spring of the Pear Garden Operatic School Concert of Graduates doing two songs.

From Wikipedia:

Chinese opera in a more organized form began in the Tang Dynasty with Emperor Xuanzong (712–755), who founded the “Pear Garden” (梨园/梨園; líyuán), the first known opera troupe in China. The troupe mostly performed for the emperors’ personal pleasure. To this day operatic professionals are still referred to as “Disciples of the Pear Garden” (梨园弟子/梨園弟子, líyuán dìzi).

This is a clip from a “Region 5 only” DVD of the same name, unavailable in the west, and with a cover that erroneously suggests traditional costumes inside:

Instead we get a truly superb “MTV unplugged” type of two hour show with all the top stars of the genre coming home to show off their best.

Of course, I am biased: my favorite is this bit with Zhang Huoding looking quite like a rock star. These are arias from either the “White Snake” or the “Unicorn Purse” operas she is best known for, I have not identified which yet, but it is really nice to see her musicians for once. It should be noted that in the video, each singer is accompanied by his or her own erhu player. This is a rare glimpse at who is behind the scenes. Note the paper scores.

Because I have no region-free DVD player, all the wonderful DVDs Zach picked up for me in China need to be converted first in order for me to view them. In the past, I have used the Open Source free Handbrake which makes very nice .m4v files of a whole DVD or individual chapters, which I then view in VLC. However most of the Chinese DVDs I have are “no frills”, i.e. no menus, no subtitles, one big two hour chapter. This is a problem because Handbrake does not allow to convert just a clip.

I tried the command-line mencoder on Linux to crop an .m4v video made with Handbrake. I managed to crop generally the right segment (the timing did not seem very precise at +- 10 seconds), but always with the first few seconds looking completely solarized, then slowly reverting to normal. A neat, but unwanted, digital effect.

Then I tried Corel Digital Studio 2010, a slow and confusing software. The trial version I used insisted on displaying a thumbnail of every scene on the DVD before I could begin and did not seem to have an easy means to save a file even though it was supposed to be fully enabled! A terrible way to waste a precious couple of hours of my life struggling with it.

I finally converted this clip using a commercial tool called Daniusoft DVD ripper which worked perfectly and is truly simple. It not only allows me to clip a section of the video, but to select the size, quality of the end file as well as allowing me to correct the video for brightness, contrast and saturation in side-by-side before and after comparison. I noticed quite a bit of difference between quality settings, this .mp4 file has maximum quality allowed and is the file size is therefore a bit bigger (200 Mb). I was glad to pay the $40 for this one. My only regret is that I couldn’t take the programmers who built this out for a beer as well. Good job!

Enjoy Madame Huoding at her best and see you next time,

— Bertrand