Software Tools We Use


Hello,

The new Google “Search by image” feature is pretty surprising. I started with a color picture of Zhang Huoding:

311

Using GIMP, I changed the canvas size, removed the color and renamed the file to “test.jpg”, giving:

test

Now I test to see if Google recognizes Zhang Huoding and indeed it does:

Screen

Now that’s pretty amazing.

… is both a blessing and a curse. It reported 86 broken links so far. I managed to fix a dozen posts today, you can search for “(Updated 2013-04-23 to fix broken links)” to see which.

Hello,

RMVB format video files were very popular in China before about 2009 and a lot of excellent operas can be downloaded in this historical RealVideo format, which is generally hard to view and unresponsive even in VLC. “Fast forwarding” is not an option in RMVB most f the time.

Fern posted the tools she uses on Windows, but sometimes these tools require extra codecs being installed, or a minimum required version of Windows, or both.

On Linux, I have successfully used Handbrake to convert .RMVB video files to something pleasurable to watch. Here are my settings, so even I can remember them.

The trick to avoid “choppy looking video” is to lower the “RF” value in the Video tab, select the “High Profile”. I also raise the frame rate to 29.97:

Handbrake

Handbrake

With these settings, the video will blow up in size (my test raised the file from 1GB to 2.4 GB) but will become quite a lot easier to view and appreciate.

Cheers!

Zhang Huoding

Fern wrote me last week:

I’m pretty excited about this new finding: a nearly 3 hours long Long Feng
Cheng Xiang with double cast, Zhang Huoding is Lady Sun in the first half
of the opera.
(source was here)

Sound is fine, video is medium.

京剧《龙凤呈祥》*Long Feng Cheng Xiang*
2002/09/17-18
Qiao Xuan, Lu Su: Zhang Jianguo (张建国)
Liu Bei: Du Zhenjie (杜镇杰)
Empress Dowager Wu: Li Mingyan (李鸣岩)
Sun Shangxiang: Zhang Huoding 张火丁, Wen Ruhua (温如华)
Zhao Yun: Huang Qifeng (黄齐峰), Wang Ping (王平)
Zhou Yu: Ye Shaolan (叶少兰)
Sun Quan, Zhang Fei: Wu Yuzhang (吴钰璋)
张建国 杜镇杰 李鸣岩 张火丁 温如华 黄齐峰 王平 叶少兰 吴钰璋

I just got around to downloading this, after realising it is not the Great Enthronement (easy to confuse, the costumes are similar).

Fern just posted this opera with a different cast on her Ear Candy blog here, but because I can’t resist posting anything with Zhang Huoding in it, and since she is indeed this blog’s theme of the week, here is the video.

Watching this, when Zhang Huoding makes her entrance at 1:12 in imperial yellow, she hit a scratchy note straight off at 1:13:40 and I told myself, “Oh no! She is not in good voice!” Then at 1:14:06 she launched into a terrific 30 seconds that is simply fan-tas-tic. Okay, I know this is a fan talking, but… I would kill to see 1:14 to 1:22 in person.

I should note that although Zhang Huoding and Wen Ruhua play the same role, there is little chance you will confuse the two actors!

I used the Windows Vidown to download and automatically stitch the 20 or so video segments together. So far so good, but the resulting .flv file kept halting dead in VLC, so I converted it using Handbrake to an m4v file, which cannot be distingued from the flv and plays great in VLC. Just so I can remember what I did next time I run into this issue again, here are my Handbrake settings. (click to enlarge — say Fern, are your settings like these?)

my Handbrake settings

File size is 695 MB

Click here to download the video

Thank you, Fern.

(originally published on: Jul 24, 2011)(Updated 2013-04-23 to fix broken links)

Li Jie

Hello,

Fern of megapoxy.net sent me the links to the story and a very nice video of Li Jie singing from the opera “Lian Jinfeng” (谦锦枫), as well as some biographical background on this actress. Very sweet, Fern, thank you!

Li Jie (李洁) is a “first-class” Mei school actress born in 1972. Starting in 1981, she was taught by famous Mei school artist Chen Zhengwei (陈正薇) at the Jiangsu Theater Academy. After her graduation in 1988, she joined the Jiansu Beijing Opera Theater.

In 1998, the Central Propaganda Department and Ministry of Culture picked her to be sent to The National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts for postgraduate studies. There she had veteran teachers like Yang Qiuling 杨秋玲, Li Jinhong 李金鸿, and from 2006 she became the student of noted Beijing opera actress Du Jinfang 杜近芳. Li Jie got Plum Blossom Award in 2001 (along with Li Hongtu, Li Peihong, Dong Yuanyuan, and Geng Qiaoyun).

Fishermen

The story (found here):

At the time of the Empress Wu Tang dynasty, Tang Ao who has failed the civil examination (allowing him to enter the service of the imperial court), meets Lin Zhiyang and Duo Jiugong and they leave for the “The Kingdom of Noblemen”. At the same time, the filial daughter named Lian Jinfeng, a very good swimmer, is looking for sea cucumber in the sea as a remedy for her mother’s illness.

One day, she is trapped with mistake by a couple of fishermen, among them Wu from Qingqiu state, and attached to the head of boat in order to sell her. As soon as he sees this, Tang Ao paid for her ransoms and she went to sea again to get sea cucumbers. She in return finds the Qidu pearl to present him.

This video is a half hour live performance. The first half consists of Li Jie singing and dancing solo, followed by some light acrobatics by clowns representing pearl fishermen. It wraps up with a sword dance. All in all, a very nice production featuring pleasing-looking colors and sets as well as interesting camera work. “The Big Blue” Beijing opera style.

Click here to download the video. File format is .MP4 and can be viewed in VLC. File size is 110 MB.

The video was downloaded and re-assembled from separate sections using Vidown from this link.

Li Jie

(originally published on: Apr 17, 2011)

Opening procession of "Red Cliff"

For disk space reasons, I had to remove this opera from the web site about two months ago. Here it is again!

Here is a really big download for a complete and truly spectacular opera, “Red Cliff”, featuring Yu Kuizhi and Li Shengsu and directed by Zhang Jigang, the assistant chief director of the opening and closing ceremonies of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.The video file format is .RMVB, 820 MB in size, and can be played with either VLC or the Open Source “Real Alternative”. The latter allows easier scrolling through the file but I find the image not as sharp, nor adjustable as on VLC so I am not recommending it.

Click here to download the video.

A word of warning: the audio on this file contains occasional “ticks” which sound like a scratchy old vinyl record at times. It seems to come from the source, as I have downloaded alternate copies of the very same opera in other formats that also have the same flaw. I got used to the ticks but you might find them annoying. Despite this drawback, the picture and sound of this video are superb, and a real testament to this artistic coup.

“Red Cliff” is thrilling hybrid. It’s a traditional Beijing Opera but with fully modern staging, lush sets, a cast of hundreds, smoke and lighting effects, cannons, and… and… a superb cast!

Red Cliff

An English description of this opera is given here, and I am reproducing it below in italics:

Grand New Epic Peking Opera: Red Cliff

Presenter: Peking Opera House of Beijing, Beijing Guolian Symphony Orchestra, etc
Production: National Centre for the Performing Arts
Coproduction: National Centre for the Performing Arts, Peking Opera House of Beijing
Venue: National Centre for the Performing Arts – Opera House
Dates: September 21 – 28, 2009 19:30
Lead Cast: Yu Kuizhi, Meng Guanglu, Li Hongtu, Li Shengsu, Zhang Jianfeng, Wang Yue, Wang Yan, etc.
Price: VIP 500 400 300 200 100 RMB
Programme IntroductionProducer: Chen Ping
Supervisor: Wang Yuzhen, Deng Yijiang
Playwright: Cai Fuchao
Chief Director: Zhang Jigang
Composer: Zhu Shaoyu
Stage Designer / Supervisor: Gao Guangjian
Executive Director: Shi Hongtu
The Battle of Red Cliff, a legendary battle over a thousand years ago, is an epic of fight among three states as well as magnificent heroic scenery. Last year, a Peking Opera representing the history of that battle was on the stage, showing the famous event happened over 1,800 years ago to today’s spectators.For the past 30 performances, the Peking Opera Red Cliff all played to the full house, showing the classical charm of Peking Opera and the quintessence of Chinese culture. With the theatre packed, it has been greatly received since its debut, causing a fad for Peking Opera, the quintessence of Chinese culture, with its great epic charm.

From September 21-28, this great epic Peking opera will return to the stage; 8 perfect performances will be contributed to the 60th anniversary of the foundation of People’s Republic of China.

Programme Introduction

Producer: Chen Ping

Supervisor: Wang Yuzhen, Deng Yijiang
Playwright: Cai Fuchao
Chief Director: Zhang Jigang
Composer: Zhu Shaoyu
Stage Designer / Supervisor: Gao Guangjian
Executive Director: Shi Hongtu

The Battle of Red Cliff, a legendary battle over a thousand years ago, is an epic of fight among three states as well as magnificent heroic scenery. Last year, a Peking Opera representing the history of that battle was on the stage, showing the famous event happened over 1,800 years ago to today’s spectators.

For the past 30 performances, the Peking Opera Red Cliff all played to the full house, showing the classical charm of Peking Opera and the quintessence of Chinese culture. With the theatre packed, it has been greatly received since its debut, causing a fad for Peking Opera, the quintessence of Chinese culture, with its great epic charm.

From September 21-28, this great epic Peking opera will return to the stage; 8 perfect performances will be contributed to the 60th anniversary of the foundation of People’s Republic of China.

The success of this play relies on a powerful lineup for the creation: it was adapted by Cai Fuchao, a famous playwriter; chiefly directed by Zhang Jigang, the assistant chief director of the opening and closing ceremonies of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and executive chief director of the opening and closing ceremonies of Beijing 2008 Paralympics; Zhu Shaoyu, a famous composer with a variety of 40 compositions as well as Shi Hongtu and other well-known Peking Opera artists joined in this opera. Major performers are from Peking Opera House of Beijing. Zhang Jigang has directed many plays, such as A Handful of Sour Dates, and it was his first time to direct a Peking Opera; however, he succeeded in mixing the charm of dance and the appeal of Peking Opera and showing it perfectly on the stage.

The coming performances of Red Cliff will again be played by a lineup of prestigious artists and promising rising stars. Leading Peking Opera artists nowadays including Yu Kuizhi, Meng Guanglu, Li Hongtu and Li Shengsu will play in all 10 performances, and popular young artists who have given wonderful performances earlier on including Zhang Jianfeng and Wang Yan will bring artistic enjoyment to the spectators once more in their own ways.

“Respect tradition and dare to innovate” is the artistic idea upheld throughout the creation of Red Cliff. Different from other traditional operas, TV programs and films with the same subject, the new epic Peking Opera Red Cliff shows great innovation both in story line and characterization. Some major plots, such as “A Verbal Dispute with Some Idea-men for War”, “Borrowing Arrows by Scarecrow-soldiers on Boats” and “Battle of Red Cliff”, as well as heroes and Xiao Qiao are all performed in a new artistic expression. Just as what dramatist Xu Chengbei said after watching it, “This is a successful play, with beautiful lyrics and compact plots, representing original historical facts and showing a new image of Zhou Yu, meanwhile, Zhuge Liang gets off the “alter” and acts like a ordinary people, so it more caters to the taste of modern people. “

There is a slight difference from the traditional expression with “One table and two chairs”, Chief Director Zhang Jigang and Stage Designer Gao Guangjian made bold innovations and created several marvelous scenes, such as “Borrowing Arrows by Scarecrow-soldiers on Boats” and “Battle of Red Cliff”, all of which present a unique romantic appeal of Peking Opera. Meanwhile, by inheriting traditions, Costume Designer Song Li and Aria Designer Zhu Shaoyu have both made successful exploration in their fields respectively.

As a unique treasure in Chinese culture, Peking Opera has particular national value and aesthetic value. NCPA, a national for performing arts centre, has committed itself to promoting art treasures of our nation and carrying forward our traditional culture. The grand new epic Peking Opera Red Cliff has catered to the taste of youngsters by expressing the charm of Peking Opera in new forms, and thus opened a new era of Peking Opera.

Schedule Lead Cast
Sept. 21 19: 30 Yu Kuizhi, Meng Guang Lu, Li Hongtu, Li Shengsu
Sept. 22 19: 30 Yu Kuizhi, Meng Guang Lu, Li Hongtu, Li Shengsu
Sept. 23 19: 30 Yu Kuizhi, Meng Guang Lu, Li Hongtu, Li Shengsu
Sept. 24 19: 30 Yu Kuizhi, Meng Guang Lu, Li Hongtu, Li Shengsu
Sept. 25 19: 30 Yu Kuizhi, Meng Guang Lu, Li Hongtu, Li Shengsu
Sept. 26 19: 30 Zhang Jianfeng, Meng Guanglu, Li Hongtu, Wang Yan
Sept. 27 19: 30 Zhang Jianfeng, Wang Yue, Li Hongtu, Wang Yan
Sept. 28 19: 30 Yu Kuizhi, Meng Guang Lu, Li Hongtu, Li Shengsu

[source:National Centre for the Performing Arts]

This video was downloaded very slowly using aMule on Linux. aMule is an eMule client. The Google Translate service I use when surfing Chinese web sites translates “eMule” as “electric ass”, which I think would be a terrific name for a rock band.

Enjoy “Red Cliff” and see you next time !

(originally published on: Jan 30, 2011)

Using Google tools to visit Chinese web sites has become very difficult at best.

Microsoft’s Bing, apparently thanks to the efforts of a large development team in China, is a good alternative.

The Bing translator will sometimes, but not always, outperform Google translate in accuracy.

The Bing video search, with its “play the video by hovering your mouse over the thumbnail” functionality is not bad either, and works well even in Firefox on Linux.

 

(originally published on: Jun 12, 2010)

Wikipedia now has a wonderful new service allowing you to create your own “book” either in PDF format or printed through a service.

You simply pick and choose which article you want to insert and you can also re-order them using a “click and drag” interface which is very intuitive. The formatting is all done automatically.

Click here to download my own PDF which I titled “Chinese Opera Overview”. The file size is about 13 Mb.

My personal favorites

Avidemux - free video editor 

  • available for Linux, BSD, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows
  • dummy-proof video editing, depending on the file cuts from frame to frame or from B-frame to B-frame
  • supports several encoders, also has Copy option for both video and audio
  • many filters, decomb, deinterlace, denoise, crop, resize, change framerate etc.
  • easy to add VobSub, ASS and srt subtitles

MPCStar - free video-audio player 

  • plays all formats
  • handles those pesky rmvb files perfectly (no problems with rewind, ffw, jump to…)

eRightSoft SUPER – free video converter

  • converts almost anything to anything
  • Top Quality function sometimes creates better quality than the original, though with huge file size
  • saves audio only in many formats
  • dummy-proof interface

Sothink DVD Creator - free DVD burner

  • converts rmvb files to VOB and writes the DVD with one click
  • quality depends on the original file
  • great tool if you want to enjoy your videos on any DVD player

Aegisub – free subtitle editor

  • easy to use after you figure it out once
  • creates ASS subtitle files

Edit: As Bertrand pointed out you probably need to update at least to SP2 – I tested above mentioned with XP SP3 and Windows 7 (surprisingly good experiences with the latter).

 

(originally published on: May 6, 2010)

To download the video, click here.

The file size is 201 MB.

Technical note:

The Huangmei Opera documentary web page, in addition to listing the episodes starting at the bottom right and going to upper left, for some reason has split each half hour segment into two segments of twenty minutes — with a ten minute block repeated!

I therefore used the “Unlicensed Basic Free Version” of Videopad Video Editor to splice and append together the first twenty and last ten minutes of the documentary. The precision is not perfect, but it certainly was good enough for the job at hand. The installer for that software is a bit fearsome — it wants you to install a mess of other products, but you can easily enough choose not to.

Sadly, right now, the “last ten minutes” for episodes 1,2 and 10 are missing from the Chinese web page and are not available, although they might simply not exist for episodes 1 and 2.

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