Full length operas

Will he like what he sees?


Here is a nice, fun opera with lots of interesting and unusual pantomime as well as some acrobatics from troupe rarely seen.

 Li Jingwen

Li Jingwen above and below, bio in Chinese here.

 Li Jingwen

Fern provided the cast for this opera here:

Cast is: Li Jingwen 李静文,Zhang Hongwei 张宏伟,Li Qihong 李旗红,Bao Xiru 保锡茹,Mi Chunming 米春明
Performance of the Shenyang Jingju Theater, originally broadcast in 2009 here.

Apparently an older performance just rebroadcast, I even wondered if I had ever seen any of these performers before. With the handy search features on the Ear Candy and Operabeijing blogs, I discovered Li Jingwen was a jury in the 2012 CCTV Jingju Contest.

Zhang Hongwei is Fourth class (2004-2008) of the China Outstanding Young Jingju Performers Class (中国京剧优秀青年演员研究生班).

Fern also provided the storyline here:

Chen Xiuying and her mother run a small teahouse in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. Shi Lun, the son of Shi Sulong who is Commander of the resident forces, sees Xiuying and is smitten by her beauty. He attempts to take her by force, and is chased out of the teahouse by Mrs. Chen and given a good beating along the way. A young man, Kuang Zhong, happening to pass by, helps Mrs. Chen home.

At the teahouse, Kuang spots an iron bow – the Chen family’s heirloom, and recognizing it to be of uncommon pedigree, is filled with admiration. He and Xiuying agree to a game of archery, and the two are soon betrothed as they find a good match in each other.

Shi Lun, however, becomes terribly jealous of Kuang, and plots to kill him and his father. Xiuying uncovers the scheme, disguises herself as a man and kills Shi, before fleeing with her mother into the night.

They escape to the Erlong Mountain, where the leader of the fort, Guan Fengying, mistakes Xiuying with his fiancée, Wang Fugang. Xiuying and her mother decide to go along with the quiproquo and follow Guan to the mountain fort, where Xiuying trains the men in preparation for battle. She then leads them to Taiyuan to take down Shi Lun’s father once and for all. The Commander first sends the real Wu Fugang into battle, and on meeting defeat, calls back Kuang and his father from their posts and orders them to ride into battle. Thus the couple meets on the battlefield yet neither recognize the other, with Xiuying in a man’s armour and Kuang having grown a beard and a moustache – until Xiuying draws out her iron bow. The two couples – Kuang and Xiuying, and Guan and Wang – are happily reunited.

Final note: it’s pretty much impossible to thank Fern enough for all her help and contributions, I get pretty intimidated just counting them all. Let me just once again congratulate her for passing  her official Chinese written Mandarin aptitude test. You’re our hero, Fern, in and out of armor!

So when’s the next trip to Beijing again?

Click here to download video Part One

Click here to download video Part Two


Lü Yang 吕洋


Here is a recent “CCTV Sky Theater” with a complete 大探二》Da Tan Er:

《大保国》Da Bao Guo (Defending the Nation)
《探皇陵》Tan Huang Ling (Visiting the Emperor’s Tomb)
《二进宫》Er Jin Gong (Entering the Palace for the Second Time)

The files were found here and here.

The cast short list includes:

Lü Yang 吕洋
Deng Muwei 邓沐玮
Ling Ke 凌珂

We posted this opera two years ago, with Wang Rongrong here. It seems the video file link was broken yet again (?) so I fixed it yesterday. It’s always fun to compare two approaches to the same operas.

From Fern’s blog here, my most cherished reference I might add, the three stories of this combined opera:

《大保国》Da Bao Guo (Defending the Nation) – At the time of the early death of Ming Emperor Muzong (Emperor Longqing) the crown prince is still an infant, and the imperial concubine Li Yanfei governs the country from behind the curtain. By deceiving Li Yanfei, her father, Li Liang, attempts to seize the throne. At the Longfeng Pavilion, Ministers Xu Yanzhao and Yang Bo strongly warn the imperial concubine Li Yanfei , but she refuses to listen and ruler and ministers part on bad terms.

《探皇陵》Tan Huang Ling (Visiting the Emperor’s Tomb) - Xu Yanzhao visits the tomb of the Emperor and pays homage. Yang Bo also comes to visit the tomb with a group of soldiers, and together they decide to speak to Li Yanfei again.

《二进宫》Er Jin Gong (Entering the Palace for the Second Time) - Meanwhile Li Liang blockades the palace, completely isolating Li Yanfei. She finally realizes that Xu and Yang are loyal ministers and she was deceived. Xu and Yang manage to sneak into the palace, and convince Li Yanfei to entrust the baby prince to them, promising they will help him ascend to the throne.

I’m always wrong, but I think this was filmed in Tianjin, it has that characteristic hall reverb.

Deng Muwei 邓沐玮:

Deng Muwei 邓沐玮

Very nice music arrangements in this one.

Click here to download Part 1 of the video

Click here to download Part 2 of the video




(Updated 2013-12-31 to fix broken video link)

Wang Yan

Great thanks to Fern who helped me sort this one out. Fern has her own blog on Chinese Opera which is absolutely splendid, please check it out as well.

This production stars Yang Shaopeng, Wang Rongrong and Meng Guanglu. It is a full-length two hour opera filmed in front of a very enthusiastic crowd in Beijing. Picture and sound quality are superb. Wang Ronrong is in great voice, and Meng Guanglu is even more so! Splendid cast, splendid costumes, the sound mix between instruments and vocals seems better than usual.

Fern found this reference with opera synoses. Here is today’s story, actually three separate stories rolled up into one opera.

For the Safefy of the State (Da Bao Guo) - The crown prince is too young to attend to State affairs when Ming emperor Muzong dies. The dowager Li Yanfei’s father plans to usurp the throne. A high-ranking official Xu Yanzhao and defense minister Yang Bo go to the court to convince the dowager of her father’s conspiracy. The two loyal officials argue with the dowager in court.

Paying Homage at the Royal Mausoleum (Tan Huangling)Ming Emperor Muzong dies in 1573 when his son is too young to hold court, so the Empress Dowager’s father attempts to usurp the throne. Duke Xu Yanzhao, who is loyal to the young emperor, tries to persuade the Empress Dowager not to give up the throne to her father, but she rebuffs him. Xu pays homage at Emperor Muzong’s mausoleum and weeps there. Defense Minister Yang Po finds the duke there and they decide to approach the Empress Dowager a second time in an attempt to save the young emperor.

Entering the Palace for the Second Time (Er Jin Gong) - Li Liang in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), who has usurped the throne after the emperor’s death, orders the palace be blockaded so that the empress dowager is completely cut off from the outside world. By now, the empress dowager has discovered Li Liang’s treachery. She regrets that she has ignored the warnings from two faithful officials, and can do nothing but weep in the palace. The two, Xu Yanzhao and Yang Po, however, manage to enter the palace to persuade the empress dowager to take action. She is moved and realizes that Xu and Yang are loyal to her son, the emperor-to-be. So she entrusts her son to the two officials so that they can help restore the young emperor to the throne.

Da Bao Guo first, Tan Huang Ling starts at 1:03:19 and Er Jin Gong at 1:20:35.

The empress dowager (always dressed in yellow, of course) is Li Yanfei (李艳妃), played by Wang Yan (王艳) and Wang Rongrong (王蓉蓉).
Official Xu Yanzhao (徐彦昭) is played by Wei Jijun (魏积军) and Meng Guanglu (孟广禄).
Defence minister Yang Bo (杨波) is played by Yang Shaopeng (杨少彭), Zhang Kai (张凯) and Ni Maocai (倪茂才).
The antagonist is Li Liang (李良), played by Li Yang (李扬).

The video is an .MKV file viewable with VLC. File size is about 840 MB.

Click here to download the video.

Guanglu Meng


Lu Yang


We have a nice snow storm blowing here right now, 20 centimeters of the white stuff. It’s opera season!

Today, I’m posting  the opera Fern blogged about here.

Original file names:

《CCTV空中剧院》 20131123 京剧《四郎探母》 1/2
《CCTV空中剧院》 20131123 京剧《四郎探母》 2/2

The cast:

Wang Ping 王平、Ling Ke 凌珂、Yang Naipeng 杨乃彭 – Yang Silang
Lü Yang 吕洋、Zhao Fangyuan 赵芳媛、Wang Yan 王艳 - Princess Tiejing
Chang Qiuyue 常秋月 – Xiao Empress
Jiao Pengfei 焦鹏飞 – Yang Zongbao
Li Hong 李宏 – She Taijun

Fern and I have posted performances of this opera before, notably with Yu Kuizhi and Li Shengsu here and with Li Jun and Shi Yihong here.

You can sort of tell this was filmed in Tianjin. The stage has a bit of a reverb to it, the sound is not as flat as in operas filmed at the Chang’an in Beijing. Also it has a bit more treble  to it.

Western audiences would be puzzled to see Renée Fleming start singing a performance of a Verdi opera at the MET on a Saturday afternoon, then be replaced 30 minutes later by Anna Netrebko, who would be replaced again 30 minutes later by Diana Damrau. But it happens often enough in Chinese Opera telecasts not to be a rarity, mostly for sweeping story lines that overlap in several distinct operas. In our case today, this opera fits in the “Generals of the Yang Family” story arch.

The two lead roles in this opera are shared among six performers. I, of course, being a guy, am keeping my eye on Lü Yang, probably with the same wiley expression as my dog Poko’s when I fake that I am about to steal a chew toy from under his nose.


Lu Yang

The classical radio was playing a short while ago and I recognized Nathalie Dessay singing.  Never heard the performance before, don’t know Nathalie Dessay much. It was just an “oh, that’s Nathalie Dessay singing” moment, if you will. She has a bit of child-like “young girl” voice.  I can recognize Netrebko too, she sort of sings from the back of the roof of her mouth which I find distracting. Fleming has a unique, full voice, completely unmistakable, with spectacular volume, and she massacres the French language. In Beijing Opera, there are of course female opera performers with immediately recognizable voices. Li Shengsu and Zhang Huoding come to mind.

Lü Yang is not one of those actresses, at least to my ears. However she has a lot of other things going for her. First, she is a divine creature in makeup, simply heart stopping. She has those Siamese cat eyes that are hard to miss and quite a lot of sheer charisma, something that another favorite of mine, Zhao Huan, often lacks. Lü Yang is mastering the art of hypnotizing you by doing nothing much at all on stage. It has to do with timing, deliberate moves, slowing down when you expect her to move fast, just minuscule things that draw your attention to her. Finally, she has volume and never disappoints.

Decide for yourself:

Click here to download Part 1 of the video (with Lü Yang)

Click here to download Part 2 of the video

And enjoy!

And thank you Fern for the links.

Zhao Huan


Special thanks to Vidown for its cooperation.

According to the Ear Candy post here, Wang Peiyu performed  this opera,《审头刺汤》Shen Tou Ci Tang (Examining the Head, Murdering Tang) on 2013-06-29 at the Shanghai Peking Opera Theatre. Just for the record, I like Fern’s translation of the opera’s title better than Google Translate’s. It has nothing to do with goats(!), but indeed with a disembodied head.

Also in the cast are Yan Qing Gu (严庆谷), one of my favorites Zhao Huan (赵欢), Chen Yu (陈宇), Wu Xiangjun (吴响军) and Zhang Haifeng (张海峰).

This was broadcast on the CCTV Theater on the Air last week on 2013-11-02.

It’s fun seeing Zhao Huan in a new role. (At last!) Wang Peiyu is in fine form here too.

Anyhow, I love opera season! Even though it means snow on the ground where I am.

Wang Peiyu

Click here for Part 1 of the video

mp4 file format, 495 MB file size

Click here for Part 2 of the video

328 MB


( Updated 2013-09-21 added missing links)

Peony Pavilion

Last post, we had a comprehensive introduction to Kunqu Opera through the 10 part CCTV documentary video series. Today we present a lavish production of the Kunqu Opera classic, “The Peony Pavilion”. I’ve mentioned before that I do not add an “Among our top picks” category to as post lightly. My thinking is that this category should be the starting point of discovery on this web site for someone unfamiliar with Chinese Opera. It’s the “Just show me the incredibly good stuff” category. Well, here’s one that absolutely belongs among the very best.

(from wikipedia) “The Peony Pavilion (Chinese: 牡丹亭; pinyin: mǔdāntíng) is a play written by Tang Xianzu (1550-1616) in the Ming Dynasty, and first performed in 1598. It is by far the most popular play of the Ming Dynasty, (1368-1644), China’s artistic golden age, and is the primary showcase of the guimendan (闺门旦/閨門旦) role type (young, unmarried girl).” The Peony Pavilion is considered a literary masterpiece in China, in which the main theme is love, or more precisely, a love so perfect it overrides even time and death.

As explained in the documentary from last post, this was originally conceived as a 20 hour opera and written in a musical notation that did not include rhythm and tempo information. Musical instruments used at the time have changed, disappeared or evolved a great deal since the opera was conceived much like the harpsichord was replaced by the piano in western opera. Further, the original play was revised even in the author’s lifetime to adhere more strictly to the definitions then of the structural rules that a Kunqu opera should follow. All modern presentations of this play are to a large extent adaptations which are viewed as more or less “traditional”.

There have been several productions of this opera in the past decade, this is the “2007 Young Lovers’ Edition” which toured worldwide. (from wikipedia again) Bai Xianyong’s adaptation of The Peony Pavilion that premiered in 2004 helped rejuvenate the tradition. Bai, a Chinese scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his colleagues – scholars and performers, some brought back from retirement – spent five months editing Tang’s script. Working out of the Jiangsu Suzhou Kunqu Theater, the group condensed and adapted the original fifty-five scenes to twenty-seven scenes, and twenty hours of performance time to nine. Bai, who had chosen The Peony Pavilion because of its universal message of love, hoped that his rendition would attract youth to Kunqu. In fact, in its tour of China’s top universities, the show was marketed as the Youth Edition of Peony Pavilion. (The production also toured in Taipei, Hong Kong, Macau, seven cities in mainland China, and the Zellerbach Theater in Berkeley, California.) According to Bai, the goal of this youth-oriented production was to “give new life to the art form, cultivate a new generation of Kunqu aficionados, and offer respect to playwright Tang and all the master artists that came before.” His production of The Peony Pavilion was his way of doing so.” The UCLA still have a website for this production dating back a few years here.

This version of the play is therefore quite long — 9 hours, or three parts each roughly 3 hours in length and performed over three days. And contrary to “epic” productions we have seen in the past from China such as “Hongzongliema”, there is no cast rotation — the same actors play in all three parts.

Peony Pavilion

Lead performers:
Du Liniang 杜丽娘 by Shen Fengying 沈丰英
Liu Mengmei 柳梦梅 by Yu Jiulin 俞玖林

“Shen Fengying is an outstanding young artist of the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre of Jiangsu. She was trained in the guimendan (young unmarried lady) roles and coached by the famous Kunqu artists. Zhang Jiqing and Liu Jiyan. She won the Performance Award at the first Kunqu Arts Festival in China, and the Silver Award at the Accreditation Showcase for Young to Middle-aged Performers in Professional Companies in Suzhou. Yu Jiulin was trained in the jinsheng (young scholar) roles at the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province. A talented, young artist, he was coached by the famous Kunqu artists. Wang Shiyu and Shi Xiaomei. He won the Performance Award at the first Kunqu Arts Festival in China, and the Gold Award at the Accreditation Showcase for Young to Middle-aged Performers in Professional Companies in Suzhou.” (ref here)

At the end of part 3, complete credits are provided in both Chinese and English for the production cast, all the performers, as well as (most rare in Chinese Opera) all the musicians.

The UCLA have a couple of PDFs that translate passages of this play into English. They include:

Excerpts from famous scenes (mirror)

Book 1 Script, part 1 (mirror)

Book 1 Script, part 2 (mirror)

A complete translation of the Peony Pavilion by Cyril Birch can be purchased on Amazon. The original Chinese version is available for your ebook reader for free here.

The story in brief:

Du Liniang, a sheltered, lonely girl of sixteen, dreams of meeting an imaginary, handsome young scholar near the Peony Pavilion. Over time, she dreams repeatedly of their imaginary romantic encounters. Eventually, saddened by her unrealised dreams, she wastes away. Before she dies, she paints a self-portrait and hides it in the garden. Three years later, the scholar of the girl’s dreams arrives at the Peony Pavilion in the flesh, his name is Liu Mengmei. He discovers the hidden panting, and falls in love with the girl in the portrait so completely that she springs back into life and they are united at last.

As indicated by wiki again, “This is only a broad outline of the plot of an opera which typically runs for 20 hours. The performance tradition has focused on the love story between Du Liniang (杜丽娘/杜麗娘) and Liu Mengmei (柳梦梅/柳夢梅), but its original text also contains sub-plots pertaining to the falling Song Dynasty’s defence against the aggression of the Jin Dynasty.

The widened plot is therefore:

It is the last days of the Southern Song Dynasty (960-1269). On a fine Spring day, a maid persuades Du Liniang, the sixteen year old daughter of an important official, Du Bao, to take a walk in the garden, where she falls asleep. In Du Liniang’s dream she encounters a young scholar, identified later in the play as Liu Mengmei, whom in real life she has never met. Liu’s bold advances starts off a flaming romance between the two and it flourishes rapidly. Du Liniang’s dream is interrupted by a flower petal falling on her, according to her soliloquy recounting the incident in a later act: (Reflection on the lost dream). Du Liniang, however, becomes preoccupied with her dream affair and her love sickness quickly consumes her. Unable to recover from her fixation, Du Liniang wastes away and dies. A demon, the president of the underworld, adjudicates that a marriage between Du Liniang and Liu Mengmei is predestined and Du Liniang must return to the earthly world. Du Liniang appears to Liu Mengmei in his dreams. He now inhabits the same garden where Du Liniang had her fatal dream. Once recognising that Du Bao’s deceased daughter is the lady who appears in his dreams, Liu agrees to exhume her upon her request and Du Liniang is brought back to life. Liu visits Du Bao and informs him of his daughter’s resurrection. However, Liu is imprisoned for being a grave robber and an impostor. The ending of the play follows the formula of many Chinese comedies. Liu Mengmei narrowly escapes death by torture thanks to the arrival of the results of the imperial examination in which Liu has topped the list. The emperor pardons all.”

The added grave robbing and underworld demons elements now in mind, the story of this version of the Peony Pavilion is, according to the UCLA web site:

“Part I: The Dream of Love
Du Liniang, a sheltered, lonely girl of sixteen, dreams of a handsome young scholar. Saddened that he was only a dream, she pines away. Before she dies, she paints a self-portrait and hides it in the garden. Her mother buries her under a plum tree, and a shrine is erected to her memory. Most of the singing and action in Part I is done by the female lead, in melismatic, haunting melodies.
Part II: Romance and Resurrection
Liu Mengmei, an impoverished scholar, dreams of a beautiful young woman under a plum tree who prophesies that only she will bring him happiness. Meanwhile,  Du Liniang‘s parents murn and the family mansion becomes derelict. The family’s gardener takes pity on the destitute Liu Mengmei and lets him stay in the secret pavilion. There, he finds Du Liniang’s portrait, and falls in love with the image. Liniang’s ghost appears. Convinced of Mengmei’s love, she reveals that she is a ghost, but that she can be revived. Braving his own fears, Mengmei decides to reopen her grave. Helped by Stone Sister, a Daoist abbess, Liu digs up the grave and Du Liniang returns to life.
Part III: Reunion and Triumph
The lively resolution to the story. Mengmei succeeds as a scholar, but not before being punished on suspicion of grave robbing. Liniang is reunited with her parents, but not before her stern father admits that love can conquer death. This final section contains some of the liveliest and most humorous episodes in all of Kunqu.”

Aesthetically, many theatrical conventions found in Beijing Opera today are the same here, such as costumes, props and pantomimes. This production is both traditionally sparse in its sets, but also resolutely modern in its lighting — an absolute treat, in my opinion. Acting is superlative and movement, especially, is divine.  To tell the truth, the physical acting coupled with the marvellous lighting is what makes this production really leap out at you.

The difference between this Kunqu Opera and modern Beijing opera lies mostly in the instrumentation and slower pace of the music. Gongs and percussion are less prominent and intrusive than in regular Beijing Opera. The information for these is simply missing from the original musical scores, so there is less of it, perhaps. Or it was decided that this is a sticking point for western audiences unused to them. Or both. Western strings are used, musicians playing a violin and cello are credited, but you won’t distinguish those instruments from the rest, they are used (I think) to chorus and sweeten the Chinese string instruments, rather than compete with them.

Western audiences unfamiliar with Chinese opera will enjoy the singing from this young cast, which is not at all high pitched as in Mei school Beijing Opera. The intended goal is to be as pleasant as (super)humanly possible here, not  to demonstrate vocal virtuosity, although it is said the original score by Tang Xianzu was decried for being very difficult to sing. Certainly that is not apparent here: the performers do not strain visibly to hit a high note. All is fluid.

In conclusion, only the very best box of Belgian chocolates comes anywhere close to being this good.

Click here to download Part 1 of the video (697 MB, .mkv format)

Click here to download Part 2 of the video (697 MB, .mkv format)

Click here to download Part 3 of the video (698 MB, .mkv format)

Click here the “making of” documentary video in Chinese (348 MB, .mkv format)

A video interview in Chinese by the UCLA with the author of this adaptation, Bai Xianyong, can be found here


A final technical note:

The video is subtitled in Chinese, but you might need to adjust your settings in VLC to see the subtitles correctly.

In menu Tools > Preferences > Subtitles and OSD > change the “Default encoding” to “Universal, Chinese” and select a Unicode font which includes Chinese characters. On my system, I used the following settings (click to enlarge):

VLC subtitles settings

Your font settings might need to be slightly different than mine, the list of available fonts will vary from operating system to operating system, but you get the idea.


荒山泪 张火丁

A really old performance of “Tears on Barren Hill” starring Zhang Huoding is offered up by Tony Zheng at Youtube at:


Sound is quite listenable even if picture quality is pretty awful.

Youtube videos can be downloaded using the Firefox add-on Video Downloadhelper http://www.downloadhelper.net/



Kicked away!

Hello, today I am presenting a full-length Beijing Opera,《秦香莲》Qin Xianglian, originally performed in 2011/04/24 at the Mei Lanfang Grand Theater in Beijing.

It stars Wang Yige 王奕戈, Chen Junjie 陈俊杰, Zhu Qiang 朱强, and Han Shengcun 韩胜存, a very talented crew indeed.

The story, repeated from Fern’s storylines web page here:

An ambitious scholar, Chen Shimei is going to the capital to take the imperial examinations. He obtains top scores as the number one scholar, then advances his career even further when he marries into the imperial family and becomes the consort of the Emperor’s daughter. However, he forgets to mention that he already has a wife and two children who he left behind in a distant village.

Meanwhile Chen’s old parents die of starvation, and his wife Qin Xianglian finally comes to Kaifeng with the two kids, to obtain news about Chen Shimei.

In the capital, Chen claims not to know them, then he orders his bodyguard Han Qi to kill his wife and both children. However, moved by Qin Xianglian’s sad story, Han Qi is unable to slaughter a woman and two children, and kills himself instead.

Chen Shimei meets his fate when Qin Xianglian’s case is investigated by Judge Bao Zheng. Bao makes arrangements to confront Chen and her wife, but Chen Shimei refuses to admit his fault.

In court, Bao sentences him to death by decapitation, even though the Empress dowager and the princess pleads against the verdict.

I posted a full-length version of this opera before, starring Wang Rongrong, over two years ago. I try not to repeat operas in my posts, but this video was so nice it swayed me. It stars Wang Yige, a seldom seen qingyi performer who came in 5th in this year’s exhilarating 7th CCTV jingju competition (China’s answer to American Idol for Beijing Opera).

Physically, Wang Yige looks strong, with a straight nose that belongs on an ancient Greek statue. She moves very gracefully, especially in hand, arm and head gestures. Sometimes the camera pulls back a bit and you can see her full-length “floating” from side to side like a mechanical doll. Few actresses do it this well.

Her voice has a crystalline quality at times when she hits high notes (an example at 18:15). She also has impressive volume, which occasionally overpowers the microphone. I had not seen her this well before, which is a shame, because she is top notch.

Wang Yige

Fern set me straight for the rest of the cast.

Han Shengcun, not Zhu Qiang as I said here initially, splendidly plays the dastardly Chen. His sustained double take at 14:00 is just delicious. He sings very well to his own children pleading at his feet then kicks them away at 28:00. He does the same to his wife (rather well executed too, I thought) at 30:00. Truly a bad guy you love to hate! A story this juicy is hard to make up, and sure enough when I checked, was based on actual events. Today, “Chen Shimei” is a byword for men who betrayed their love in China. (I wonder if that applies to “Internet widows” as well).

Kicked away!

Zhu Qiang, whom Fern just met in Sicily, plays the benevolent Wang Yanling, who arranges the banquet where Qin Xianglian sings about her woes.

Chen Junjie plays the implacable Judge Bao.

The Dowager was Kang Jing (康静), and the almost-assassin with a heart of gold Han Qi was Wang Xueqing (王雪清).

A Chinese web page about the performance where I swiped the Wang Yige close-up above can be found here.

Fern added that because of conventions, Qin Xianglian is often played by a Zhang school actress, such as Wang Yige, while Wang Yanling is often Ma school. In the 1964 classic movie of the same title,  Zhang Junqiu and Ma Lianliang play these roles themselves.

I found the narrative of this version of the opera somehow swifter and much clearer to follow. The acting is very fresh, Wang Yige and the rest of the cast do not cease to surprise.

All in all, a joy to watch!

Click here to download the video

File format is .mkv; file size is 1.1 GB

Let me know what you think.


The Palace of Eternal Youth

Hello again,

A shorter post this time perhaps, but a wonderful opera nonetheless: here is another Kunqu classic, “The Palace of Eternal Youth”.

(from wikipedia) “The Palace of Eternal Life (长生殿), also translated as The Palace of Eternal Youth is a play written by Hong Sheng (洪升) (1645-1704) in the 27th year of Emperor Kangxi’s reign (1688), during  the Qing Dynasty. He absorbed certain material from the long narrative poems The Song of Everlasting Sorrow (长恨歌) written by Bai Juyi and Zaju (杂剧) Chinese Parasol Tree Rain (梧桐雨) written by Bai Pu. The Palace of Eternal Life is acclaimed as one of the China’s “Four Great Classical Dramas”, along with The Peony Pavilion, The Peach Blossom Fan and the The Story of the Western Wing. The performance is focused on the everlasting love story of Emperor Ming of the Tang Dynasty (唐明皇) and his favorite consort Lady Yang (杨贵妃).”

As we saw in the Kunqu documentary two posts ago, the author was frustrated with his imperial duties and wrote his court experiences into the story. (wikipedia) “(The play) combines frank political realism with metaphysics, Confucian ideals of state with Taoistic ideals of the soul.”

The story:

Based on historical facts, it tells the love story between the emperor and his concubine who wished to be “two love-birds flying wing to wing, and on earth two trees with branches twined from spring to spring,” interlacing reality and dream. At the same time, the work also reflects the complicated contradictions and clashes within and outside the court, giving a historical picture of the joys and sorrows of the people and the rise and fall of a dynasty.

This performance by the Jiangsu Kunqu Troupe is full of colourful costumes and exquisite moves. It is also very pleasant to western ears!

Click here download part 1 of the video

Click here download part 2 of the video

A word of warning, the sound is very loud, bring down the volume before playing the video.


Lü Yang


This is a collaborative post between Bertrand and Fern, whose help was invaluable to get the facts straight. I also have to thank Géza again for forwarding me this video a couple of months ago via USB stick in the regular mail. I only got around to watching a couple of weekends ago and was bowled by the terrific performances. I emailed Géza to express my great enthusiasm for it and he replied, “Yes, the performance is superb. It is my all time favorite performance.

According to the encyclopedia Fern, the cast for this show is Lü Yang, Wang Peiyu, Zhang Ke (I thought it was An Ping!), Wang Yan, Ma Jie, Li Hong, and Wei Yigang. It was filmed in 2000 at the Tianjin Binhu Theatre in Shanghai (武家坡+算军粮+银空山+大登殿).

The basic story of Wujia Po, or the Wujia Slope, is simple. Like Ulysses in the Odyssey, a husband (named Pinggui) who has been away for 18 years returns to find his wife (Baochuan) after making good. He finds her living humbly near a cave, unchanged. She does not recognise him and escapes into the cave. The husband decides to test her love by tempting her with silver and sweet promises to accompany him and leave on horseback. She firmly resists his many advances. Finally, he reveals his true identity and they are reunited.

Wujia Slope is part however of a larger epic, 《红鬃烈马》Hongzong Liema, (the red-maned fiery horse), which consists of numerous episodes. Fern has gathered synopses for each of the episodes here.

In the video presented here today, the husband and wife story takes up the first hour of the opera. It is a pretty bare bones Cheng school play with a simple costume for the female lead, few props and only two characters on stage.Everything depends on the delivery, a demanding task. I’ve posted a video of this before, performed by my favorite singer, Zhang Huoding, here.

After the first hour, there is an abrupt segue and the husband Pinggui  and wife Baochuan have returned to the imperial court. This story shift was a bit hard to figure out. Fern had to lay it all out for me.

First comes the the “stock-taking” scene which is rarely staged. Repeating from Fern’s storyline post:

《算军粮》Suan Jun Liang (Stock-taking the Army Provisions) - At Wang Yun’s birthday celebration, a fierce argument is going on between Wei Hu and Xue Pinggui, regarding the provisions of the last 18 years. After the death of the Tang emperor, Wang Yun seizes the throne and sends troops to capture Xue Pinggui.

(in the picture below,Wei Hu and Pinggui argue):

actors Zhang Ke and Wang Peiyu

Following is the 《银空山》Yinkong Shan (Silver Sky Mountain) scene with Wang Yan as Princess Daizhan.  Eventually, with the help of Princess Daizhan, Pinggui (just like Ulysses), will wrest back the throne from usurpers. At the end of which the two losers are arrested by the foreigner furry soldiers of Daizhan and the emperor’s seal is taken back (symbolised by a brick covered in a yellow scarf).

heavies are busted

Finally, the scene 《大登殿》Da Deng Dian (The Great Enthronement) closes the opera – Pinggui takes the throne and makes Baochuan Empress. He orders the execution of Wang Yun, but Wang Baochuan begs him to spare the life of her father. Pinggui gives in, and he even allows Mrs. Wang to live in the palace (everyone: peace and love, no hard feelings).

I posted a video of Zhang Huoding performing Da Deng Dian before here. That video begins with the arrest pictured above.

Zhang Huoding’s performances in the Wujia Slope scene often seems to my eyes to have become “the blueprint that must be followed” by younger Cheng school performers such as Lü Yang, Guo Wei and especially (just being a bit stern despite the fact she is my new crush) Zhao Huan. Fortunately, I am happy to say, in this video Lü Yang gives a very fresh performance, quite her own, playful and downright catty at times. Simply, her singing is the best I have heard her and her moves are the best I have seen her. She is so good during the five minutes that start at 10:45 that she is the only one startled when the audience member yells his approval at her exquisite gestures, and she cracks a thankful smile at 15:29 that is not in the script.

Wang Peiyu, another actress, plays the husband. This is perhaps not her most memorable role, but boy does she shine! Tremendous singing! It is clear that Lü Yang and Wang Peiyu clicked during this production.

The files Géza sent me were simply too big to post in .VOB format, so I used Daniusoft’s DVD ripper to reduce them to a format more adapted to the web. The source audio is not very loud and it has an audible hum, so to watch the video I recommend you do the same as I: in VLC, use the built-in pre-amplifier and graphic equaliser by going menu Tools > Effects and Filters > Audio Effects tab

My audio correction looked like this, but you might tweak to your own taste:

Click here to download Part 1 of the video

(mp4 format, file size 920 MB)

Click here to download Part 2 of the video

(mp4 format, file size 843 MB)



Next Page »