Audience recording

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.

The White Snake moves heaven and earth to get the magical lingzhi mushroom, in order to revive her beloved husband.

Even Crane Boy and Deer Boy (played by the super-handsome Zhou Enxu and Zhang Qingsong) can’t prevent White Snake from snatching the mushroom.

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 little monk in the background holds the copper bowl that later serves as snake catcher. Again, Boo! at Fahai. I don’t like this character, but I already said that.

I think the charming bear is Wang Xueqing.

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.

Broken Bridge Part 1
Broken Bridge Part 2

Happy end! Reunion at Broken Bridge! Never mind the later happenings.

I like this picture: you can see the musicians as well.

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…

Hello Everybody,

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:

Photo of Ma Ou (BTV)

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.

京剧《赵氏孤儿》Zhaoshi Guer (The Orphan of the Zhao Family), Aria 在白虎大堂奉了命 – Zhu Qiang (朱强)

Despite the torture, Bu Feng doesn’t confess

My single shot of Jiang Yishan except the curtain call that worked out

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.

Soon they start to laugh. I like this picture.

Zhao Wu is a skilled archer: he shots two wild geese with one arrow

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 evildoer is dead!

Curtain call

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, I agreed. Stay tuned!

-end of part1-

This morning I accidentally found this video at YouTube, and I thought I upload it here before it disappears.

It’s a pretty 1920×1080, 252MB video of Geng Qiaoyun performing The Drunken Concubine at the 2012 Spring Festival Gala of the (I suspect the Californian?) Confucius Institute.

Geng Qiaoyun (耿巧云) is a famous huadan performer, disciple of  Liu Changyu (刘长瑜), who is some kind of “living legend”, and one of the most prestigious teachers in huadan circles. Geng graduated in the first session of the Outstanding Young Jingju Performers Class, and was honored with the Plum Blossom Prize in 2001.

You can buy a CD of her here and a DVD here – latter is a love story, as many representative pieces of the huadan repertoire. CCTV11 aired this opera, Peach Blossom Village a month ago, with Liu Rongzheng, another student of Liu Changyu in the leading role. As in Hong Niang, the nosy servant girl acts as the matchmaker of the chaste young woman and the handsome, talented scholar.

It might be my imagination, but I found Geng Qiaoyun’s tipsy Guifei more lively than the ones impersonated by actresses trained in qingyi role. As she’s specialized in Xun school, she might be more accustomed to witty, bright-smiled characters. Very different from the closed-mouthed, fluid Mei-style version of Li Shengsu. (My dark secret is that I’m not a great fan of Li, but I’ve never seen a drunken concubine with better oiled joints.)

Click here to download the video – and don’t forget to enjoy. 😉

Zhao Huan (赵欢)

I am prone to exaggeration, and to hyperbole when it comes to my favourite singers. But it isn’t often that I get knocked down from my chair by a Beijing Opera performer I’d never heard of before.

I was trying to profit from a day when my son and I were both home because of his cold, by looking at a treasure trove of Cheng school HD audience videos Fern pointed me to. They’re really tedious to go get though, I have to copy and past the link and title translation into a text file, transfer it to another computer and load them in to Vidown.

I somehow missed Fern’s cue and downloaded two videos of cross-dressing male actor Yang Lei (杨磊) and watched those. Perhaps I will be more impressed another time, but I think at this point his appeal will be limited to hardcore purists.

Fern just wrote this week, “Beijing has Guo Wei, Tianjin has Lü Yang, Shanghai has Zhao Huan – 3rd generation of Cheng school.

Among these, I’ve seen Guo Wei and Lü Yang, both very photogenic and with nice voices. So I decided to check out Zhao Huan, with no expectation at all.

And I saw this audience video from the opera Wenji, filmed just a couple of days ago. Shot without a tripod, audience heads bobbing in front of the camera, with the usual background chatting which makes the audience sound so blasé. The singer sounds echoey and a bit far away, but wait…

Zhao Huan

“Holy cats! What a voice!” (falls out of his chair and lands on the floor, klunk!)

Céline Dion singing live in Quebec City made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up about 15 years ago. So did Linda Rondstadt live at the Bumbershoot in Seattle in 2001. So did Zhao Huan at 1:16 of this video.

Volume, crystal tone, pitch AND breath control. She makes top star Li Haiyan in the same role from the last post sound poor and weak.

Click here to download video of Zhao Huan (赵欢) in 京剧 文姬归汉 Wenji Gui Han 2012-03-17 (285 MB, .f4v format)

Here is a brief CCTV half hour program with excerpts from two (now very familiar) Cheng school plays, the Unicorn Purse, and Dream in a Girl’s Chamber.

Click here to download part 1 (56 MB)

Click here to download part 2 (38 MB)

A very young girl with a friendly, round face.

Zhao Huan

Wait, one more shakey audience recording that cuts a couple of times and restarts right in the middle, Zhao Huan in Hamlet, from LAST NIGHT!

Click here to download video if Zhao Huan (赵欢) in 逸夫舞台- 殷缡-王子复仇记 Hamlet, Yifu Theatre 2012-03-20

(45 MB)

You can tell a fan shot this, the camera follows her everywhere, not bothering at all with the other actors. 4:41 to 4:47, did you catch that? Sweet.

Zhao Huan

Simply put, the future looks bright ahead.

Li Haiyan

I really like Li Haiyan, she is a magnificent singer.

My phone rang twice, my 8 year-old son came in to fetch a ruler for his homework (the drawing table is in the basement, I’m on the second floor), my wife interrupted as well, all that, still… Li Haiyan’s entrance in the spectacular and uncharacteristically lavish production of Wenji filmed on 2011-09-12 at the Mei Lanfang Theater in Beijing cannot be marred. This is a very nice audience recording with good sound (just don’t forget to turn down the volume a bit) and a great HD picture (also known as “HQ” in Hungary) shot on a tripod.

We just went over the story for this opera, the story of a kidnapped princess who bears her captor two sons. Then, years later, her ransom is finally paid and she has to decide if she will return to her own country and abandon all her loves behind.

This is a very well lit play, especially for Beijing Opera, with tasteful, lush set decorations, wonderful painted backdrops inspired to my eyes by the Canadian Group of Seven, all of which translates to a “hybrid play” of Beijing Opera, not for purists of the genre. If you saw this set’s furniture in a retail store, it would cost $7000 for the calligraphy table alone.

Li Haiyan enters wearing an absolutely gorgeous costume and headdress and sings rather quietly at first. She moves delicately, playing a creature of perfumed splendor with subtlety in a sumptuous production where everything is big and in your face.

Experimenting is bound to happen, and indeed, there is an odd moment of pre-recorded music at 45:00, with Li Haiyan standing looking stunned, followed by a (canned ?) serenade over dialogue. This sequence was not particularly successful I think, but is the exception overall.

There is perhaps too much dialogue by secondary players. The “boy” is shrill to my ears, played by a petite adult actress almost a head shorter than the other actors.

The end of Li Haiyan’s aria which begins at 52:00 segues into a nice but out of place orchestral sweep that begins at 54:00 which feels quite a bit “modern red”. This happens again during Song Xiaochuan’s next aria.

In part two, Li Hayan arrives “by chariot”. This should have been one of the highlights of the opera, but Li Haiyan is not entirely convincing. Bad miking? Strange arrangement? Sore throat? Music too loud and the performer can’t hear herself on stage without monitors? Or is her singing too subtle with some of it is lost in the 12th row?

Her best moments comes as her character visits the tomb (on her pilgrimage home or as a side trip before going home?) during the 7 minutes or so that begin at 28:00. She plays hesitation and indecision in a very low key fashion, no obvious pantomime or high drama.

The final farewell takes forever (I thought she was halfway home already?) I’m confused, the son stays with her at the end in this one?

In conclusion, a splendid show, despite a couple of off-kilter details.

It would have been nice to be been standing on stage right next to Li Haiyan in full costume as she was singing it.

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Thank you to Fern who sent me the link to this admirable fan’s page at tudou.

Zhang Huoding in Wujia Slope

I’m pretty excited!

“Jamais deux sans trois” is a French saying that means “never two without three”. Here is a third Zhang Huoding find in as many days, a complete performance from 2006-11-25 of 武家坡 Wujia Po (The Wujia Slope). As Fern indicated on her blog yesterday, this is an act from the epic Hongzong Liema. Fern also indicated in my own “A Nice Surprise” post this weekend that Zhang Huoding performed this on the same day and preceding the Da Deng Dian act.

The plots for all the acts of Hongzong Liema, courtesy of Fern, are here.

I’m not sure if Fern guessed I was going to post this or not, but I think she did because she marked this as the “#1 Thing Bertrannd has to find” and I read that just as my upload to this web site was finishing up. Coincidence? Hmmm.

Anyway, this is another rare find from the forum, an audience recording of great quality. Excellent video quality, good sound, no shaking, well-handled close ups.

Once again, if you are new to Beijing Opera, perhaps you should not start with this. But heck, you could do far worse!!!

The cast: Zhang Huoding, Du Zhenjie

File size is 414 MB, file format is old school realaudio .ra again, playable in VLC.

Click here to download the video

Be still, my beating heart…


A very nice photo of Zhang Huoding in this role, from her own 2 volume book of jingju photography (click to view larger):

Zhang Huoding

Zhang Huoding

Sometimes, you just never know.

A want list item found! Here is a complete and quite watchable video of Zhang Huoding and Zhao Baoxiu in 大登殿 Da Deng Dian (The Great Enthronement) from 2006-11-25 .

It’s as good as it gets for an audience recorded video — good picture, good sound, and steady, professional quality camera work. In fact if the stage had been miked, all that would have been missing is the CCTV11 watermark.

This is a find, provided by a devoted fan on the web site’s forum. God bless! To get hold of this , I managed to register in Chinese all by myself on, and to figure out what to click on to obtain a file (wasn’t easy).

The entire play is under 50 minutes and is quite low key. Zhang Huoding basically has to sit and stand a couple of times and that’s about as heady as it gets. On the other hand, this opera is quite big on actresses singing, and all three ladies here are in exceptional form. Zhang Huoding in 2006 could really sing, and here she has two superb arias to deliver. Zhao Baoxiu in a brief role gets her chance to shine as well. I third actress in this production, obviously Mei school, was in great voice too, but I was unable to identify her. Fern, of course, was 50 steps ahead of me and provided not only the cast list but the context in which this short production was presented. Basically, Zhang Huoding presented two plays in two days. Fern writes:

On 2006-11-25 there was a performance of Hongzong Liema, in which Zhang Huoding starred in the Wujia Po and the Da Deng Dian parts. (Special pleasure for me that the first part, Bie Yao, was played by Jin Xiquan and Xiong Mingxia. I must have this part! :D)

The full cast for these two days’ performances is as follows:


《武文华》 张火千 蔡景超 Wu Wenhua (Zhang Huoqian, Cai Jingchao)

《鸳鸯冢》 张火丁 宋小川 李崇善 寇春华 吕昆山 金立水 唐禾香 黄涛 Mandarin Duck Grave (Zhang Huoding, Song Xiaochuan, Li Chongshan, Kou Chunhua, Lü Kunshan, Jin Lishui)


《红鬃烈马》 Red-maned Fiery Horse

《别窑》 金喜泉 熊明霞 Pinggui Leaves His Home (Jin Xiquan, Xiong Mingxia)

《武家坡》 张火丁 杜镇杰 Wujia Slope (Zhang Huoding, Du Zhenjie)

《银空山》 邓敏 宋小川 马翔飞 寇春华 吕昆山 黄文俊 陈真治 Silver Sky Mountain (Deng Min, Song Xiaochuan, Ma Xiangfei, Kou Chunhua, Lü Kunshan, Huang Wenjun, Chen Zhenzhi)

*《大登殿》 张火丁 李崇善 赵葆秀 常秋月 The Great Enthronement – Zhang Huoding (as Wang Baochuan), Li Chongshan (as Xue Pinggui), Zhao Baoxiu (as Mme Wang), Chang
Qiuyue, Xun school (as Princess Daizhan)

Thank you, Fern!

The audience on this video is very receptive, and the flowers just keep piling up when the performers take their bow.

You really shouldn’t start with this video if you are new to Beijing Opera, because of the video quality and the overall low excitement of the plot. But this is probably the only chance you’ll have to see one of the truly great Beijing opera actresses, and my favorite singer, in this opera in our lifetime. There will likely *never* be an HD version of this, *ever*.

The file format is old school Realaudio .ra, which fortunately can be played with VLC. File size is 360 MB.

Click here to download the video


Fern found a better quality version of this file, the video is slightly bigger and file format is a lot friendlier mkv. File size is 375 MB. Thank you Fern!

Click here to download Fern’s version of this video

And enjoy!

A few thoughts in advance

As Bertrand mentioned in the previous post, I had a short trip to France last week, to see a Beijing opera performance on the spot.

Obviously I would have missed it if Bertrand wouldn’t have sent the link to me – somehow I’m miserable in spotting performances in Europe, but slowly I start to figure out where to search. Program schedule of the Shanghai Jingju Troupe includes every performance in China and outside. Program schedule of the Tianjin Jingju Troupe lists only the performances that take place in the theater itself, for others you have to look in the News section, a bit troublesome.

This wasn’t the first time the Jingju Theater of Tianjin, lead by Wang Ping, visited Europe: in 2009 they already had a tour in France. At that time they came with a highlights performance, now in 2011 a full, though shorter edition opera, Female Generals of the Yangs was added to the program.

I think Beijing opera, also Chinese opera in general belongs to the whole world as cultural heritage, and since China’s open policy some efforts are made to introduce this art form to the West. However, I always had a feeling that this introduction is not as throughout as desired, as if they thought we wouldn’t comprehend the more subtle meaning and real glamour of jingju anyways.

That’s just natural that Chinese opera doesn’t have a huge audience and massive fan base in Europe or North America, but I wouldn’t blame it entirely on the lack of interest from the Western part.

Xiaodouzi at made a post in his blog earlier, discussing translation issues. He pointed out that while the Japanese attach importance to providing the West with English words they find suitable for  “untranslatable” Japanese expressions, the Chinese just rant and ramble about how ridiculous they find the word “Mandarin duck” for yuanyang or “mung bean milk” for douzhi, but do not suggest a better translation.

He has it right. We are willing to learn, just teach us.

Unfortunately China’s jingju scene is struggling hard to get new audiences even in their own country. I spent lots of time on Weibo lately (“Twitter” of the Sina network), and just ran into a fiery discussion about Wang Peiyu’s popularization methods and Shi Yihong’s unconventional blockbuster Unicorn Purse – both were attacked on account of selling national essence on the marketplace of wealth and fame.

That’s just natural that this kind of talk raises up the question of financial problems.

You surely remember the video Bertrand uploaded about the hardships of managing a jingju theater. While the China National Jingju Company enjoys the full financial support of the government, other theaters and troupes have to balance on the edge of maintaining the standards of traditional Beijing opera and popularizing productions to make profit. (Even the initial giggling at these pictures of chickens turned into a discussion about financial support: Zhang Jianguo’s artistic chicken is sponsored by the government, while the Jingju Theater of Beijing can afford only the B-category prop Zhang Jianfeng is holding.)

And now I finally arrived to the point where I want to join the two threads, namely the “pearls to pigs” phenomenon and the question of financial problems.

Apparently, at least one group of Chinese opera fans doesn’t consider the members of Tianjin’s “Europe Troupe” cultural ambassadors, rather they take pity on them because they have to tour to make a living.
Indeed, troupe members seemed to be tired. They seemed to be homesick. They seemed to be a bit deserted. Zhao Hua is sick of French food.
But I do hope despite all hardships they were aware of their own significance – when can we see Beijing opera in Europe? Once in a year at the most. And we can’t choose what play to watch. Can’t choose which troupe to watch. Can’t pick the lead actors, can’t pick the theater. We even can’t pick the country.
I hope my letter that took days to compose was delivered to Wang Ping – besides some personal flattery it also contained a wholeheartedly written paragraph expressing gratitude to all performers, musicians and crew members.

For me, this performance itself and the aftermaths resulted in a unique, though somewhat sobering experience. It was absolutely worth the effort and expenses I’ve put into it. However, my final conclusion is that if you want to see Beijing opera in its full glory and splendor, with enthusiastic spectators yelling “Hao! Hao”, a trip to mainland China is unavoidable. So don’t get rid of your piggy banks guys.

My actual report back

Good news (at least for myself): planes didn’t crash. The hotel was cheap, semi-comfortable but very tidy. Despite all rumors, public transportation in Paris was not complicated at all. Every literate person can manage with the maps and time schedules provided at the stations, also the crew is willing to help out if you tell them where you wanna go. Of course it won’t hurt if you figure out your route in advance.

The performance in question was The Female Generals of the Yang Family by the Tianjin Jingju Troupe, held in Théâtre Espace Coluche in Plaisir.

My overall impression is that the online communication of this production was somewhat mediocre. Neither the French, nor the Chinese side provided a complete list of tour stations. Most of the French sites failed to clearly indicate exactly what excerpts the acrobatic opera highlights performance consists of. listed them, but without a cast.

Printed material of the French was decent. The program pamphlet listed all troupe members and their awards, but didn’t contain a cast list, namely who played who. The storyline of the opera was explained in French, moreover the whole play had French subtitles. The street poster was very nice.

Plaisir is a suburb of Paris, and the district I had my accommodation in had a strong rural feeling (I saw words like “fermière” on signs and the road I frequently took was called “Route des 2 Plateaux”. I really had to climb two small plateaus. Otherwise, pretty boring little town. This is the most exciting photo I made:

Here are a few pictures of the theater and street advertising:


Performance started at 9pm, one hour before was a little make-up show accompanied by live jinghu music which I didn’t really watch because I was too busy figuring out whether I have a chance to meet performers later or not. I couldn’t see anything due to the hoards of French matrons anyways.

Soon I came to the conclusion that if I want to give my letter addressed to Wang Ping to someone, this is the single opportunity, so with an elegant “Excusez-moi!” I placed my elbow between the ribs of an elderly lady and made my way to the Xixia king who already finished with his face paint and sit there in total stupor, staring at a lady who repeatedly asked him something in French. I don’t blame them for being less smiley, if I would be put on display in undergarment for a crowd of middle-aged foreign women, I wouldn’t smile either. “For Wang Ping?”, he asked, took my letter and nodded that he’ll deliver it.
Thus I finished my first mission.

(edit) By the way, I just found this photo, Wang Ping returned to China in November (I don’t know exactly why), and checked out the Shanghai International Art Festival on the 6th –  isn’t that crazy, if he’s flying back and forth, who knows where he is on a certain day?

I give up on tracking down this man…

Mu Guiying and Chai Junzhu

The next one was to make a video. I had a good seat, second row, I could have sit anywhere else by the way, the theater wasn’t full. The compact camera I mentioned in my comment on the previous post is a very decent device, but I haven’t used it before, and had only medium success with the first act, zooming in and out, trying to find a good angle and fixing my skeleton in an effective yet somewhat convenient position. Even though the camera is light-weight, I had trouble to hold it motionless for more than one and a half hour.
Yes, the play was only 1 hour and 40 minutes long. (Actually I might have known that they won’t stage a three hour long full Yangmen Nüjiang as entertainment show.)

Yang girls. I think the pale orange one is a boy.

Stage set was a typical traveling one, if I want to borrow Bertrand’s words, a “bare bones” set, what I didn’t mind at all. The play was divided into ten acts, with curtain after each one. Of course the storyline was custom tailored, I especially missed one of my favorite parts, the martial arts competition, when Yang Wenguang is pleading with his mother: “Ma, Ma, let me win!”

“Bravo!”, said the Emperor.

Costumes were as refined as you might expect from professionals, I especially enjoyed “live” costumes – robes swishing and headdresses clattering, you don’t hear these on TV. Just like during all performances, tassels and pearls that fell on the ground were elegantly kicked out of the stage later, the audience found this greatly amusing.

Yang banner

Personally I like Wang Yan (王艳),  the fresh Plum Blossom winner Mei school qingyi who played the role of Mu Guiying. She’s a very lively actress, with a strong clear voice. Also she has a good sense of humor. I admit that Mei style is stressful for my ears now and then, but never with Wang Yan.

Her husband, the popular Zhao Hua (赵华), disciple of Zhang Xuejin came as the emperor, and Li Hong (李宏) (you  already could meet her here) as She Taijun. Yang Wenguang was Wang Yi (王一) for sure, and I’m pretty sure Bai Xianglong (白相龙) played the king of Western Xia.

Enemy camp: Barbarians! 😛

From this particular performance, my favorite character was Zhang Biao, portrayed by the first-class wusheng Si Ming (司鸣). I’m not 100% sure about other members of the cast. I think Cheng Meng (程萌) played Yang Qiniang and Li Shanshan (李珊珊) Chai Junzhu, but I’m not sure, especially about the latter.

“The Uruks turn northeast!” Erm, no, “We are on the Southeast slope!”

Meeting of the two camps

I chose two videos to upload, I hope you’ll like them despite all of the unprofessional camerawork. The first few seconds are blurry and shaky, and the final scene is missing a couple of minutes – unfortunately this camera can record only 23:35 long videos, and I failed to notice that time is running out. The Yang generals capture Wang Wen, and right when they would kill him, the video ends. Sorry for this, but the last part had the most spectacular action and I wanted to share it.
Both were converted to convenient MP4 format and reasonable size with Handbrake.

Click here to download “The Hall of Ancestors” scene

Click here to download “The Last Assault – Victory” scene

According to the program leaflet, members of the Europe troupe are Wang Ping (王平) as general artistic director, Wang Yan (王艳), Li Hong (李宏), Cheng Meng (程萌), Wang Pengfei (王鹏飞), Huang Qifeng (黄齐峰), Wu Peiwen (许佩文), Li Shanshan (李珊珊), Li Feng, Zhang Chanyu (张蝉玉), Hou Peizhi (侯佩志), Rui Zhenqi (芮振起), Si Ming (司鸣), Zhao Hua (赵华), Wang Yi (王一), Bai Xianglong (白相龙), Cheng Honglei (程洪磊), Gao Hang (高航), Han Qing, Han Yansong, Li Xiaoqing, Li Wei, Li Zhen, Liu Xueyong, Liu Yong, Lu Yan (路岩), Qi Jiaqiang, Quan Shouchang, Shao Hailong (邵海龙), Wei Yigang (魏以刚), Xing Tao, Yang Kang, Yang Zaihan, Zhang Yao.

See You later, and I seriously hope the “Travels of Fern” category will have more posts in the future.

And forgive my poor English. (Can we start a sentence with “and” in English? It’s not allowed in Hungarian.)

(edit) I mentioned the theater in Plaisir wasn’t full. Another spectator mentioned the theater in Avignon wasn’t full. But actually, “not full” is relative. This kinda heart-wrenching photo is currently floating around, demonstrating why China’s local operas need support:

Just by coming, spectators of France were showing support.

autographed playlist

Last week I discovered a studio CD by my favorite singer I did not know existed here.

2005 CD

I had seen the cover to this Zhang Huoding CD before, but it seemed so amateurish I thought it was a live audience recording being distributed. But no, it is a very good recording of the singer at her peak in 2005.

I posted a couple of tracks from this a while back, without knowing the origin, here and here. The CD seems to be out of print everywhere at the moment. But don’t worry, we’ll start a petition.

Later this week, I stumbled on two more nice live MP3 recordings by Madame Huoding, first an aria from the Butterfly Lovers opera, then from the Dragon and the Phoenix.

The source of the latter two was here.

Finally, to round out the week, Fern found some rare audience video recordings of Zhang Huoding.

She wrote me, “I was sorting out my folders and suddenly I got an idea, regarding a complete Da Deng Dian with Zhang Huoding. That opera is part of the Red-maned Fierce Horse (Hongzong Liema) monster play, and almost always only
a few acts are performed together at once, Wujia Po and Da Deng Dian are always inside though.

I started to search for “红鬃烈马” “张火丁” and found some valuable information:

The Mandarin Duck Grave you recently uploaded was performed in Chang’an Grand Theatre 2006/11/24. (Before that, there was a performance by Zhang Huoding’s brother).

The next day, 2006/11/25 there was a performance of Hongzong Liema, in which Zhang Huoding starred in the Wujia Po and the Da Deng Dian parts. [Fern mentions that she is looking for the the first part, Bie Yao, played by Jin Xiquan and Xiong Mingxia.]

I found only this copy so far:

It’s small but not that bad. They lift up the banner at the end like after the Mandarin Ducks.

(In) the channel of the same individual who uploaded the Mandarin Duck Grave here, there was this atypical piece there too, a full Sitting in the Palace w/ Zhang Huoding and Du Zhenjie:

Crappy quality but it’s kind of a rarity I guess. The oh-so-famous part starts at 30:54.

The full cast for these two days’ performances is as follows:


《武文华》 张火千 蔡景超 Wu Wenhua (Zhang Huoqian, Cai Jingchao)

《鸳鸯冢》 张火丁 宋小川 李崇善 寇春华 吕昆山 金立水 唐禾香 黄涛 Mandarin Duck Grave (Zhang Huoding,
Song Xiaochuan, Li Chongshan, Kou Chunhua, Lü Kunshan, Jin Lishui)


《红鬃烈马》 Red-maned Fierce Horse

《别窑》 金喜泉 熊明霞 Pinggui Leaves His Home (Jin Xiquan, Xiong Mingxia)

《武家坡》 张火丁 杜镇杰 Wujia Slope (Zhang Huoding, Du Zhenjie)

《银空山》 邓敏 宋小川 马翔飞 寇春华 吕昆山 黄文俊 陈真治 Silver Sky Mountain (Deng Min, Song Xiaochuan, Ma Xiangfei, Kou Chunhua, Lü Kunshan, Huang Wenjun, Chen Zhenzhi)

《大登殿》 张火丁 李崇善 赵葆秀 常秋月 The Great Enthronement (Zhang Huoding, Li Chongshan, Zhao Baoxiu, Chang Qiuyue)“.

Thank you Fern, that was a *nice* birthday present in advance!

To close this off, I like to replay a video Fern posted herself before on her own great blog here. It’s a really nice performance, and my copy of the video is bigger, has better sound, and comes from CCTV11 rather than CCTV4, so from a different source. It also identifies a time frame, 2006, which was very good Huoding vintage from what we’ve seen here.

Zhang Huoding as the White Snake

Click here to download the video (28 MB in size, .rmvb format)


Zhang Huoding

Zhang Huoding

Zhang and Song


Zhang Huoding

The Death Scene

One of my want list items, a full-length video of Zhang Huoding (张火丁) starring in the Beijing Opera “Mandarin Duck Grave” (鸳鸯冢), has been “sort of” found. This is a bit of a surprise, Fern and I have discussed the existence of a video of this opera in emails before, we believed there remained only a very shaky and rough 50 minute audience video of this production.

This new video is an audience recording of the complete two hour opera from 2006, with near-professional camera work, but marred with way-back-of-the-theater sound. In fact it looks and feels like a practice run for a full-fledged television shoot: the camera lens retains picture quality even when zooming way in, the lighting and colors are great. But the sound snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

I felt a bit guilty about this post. You really shouldn’t start here if you are new to Beijing Opera (check out our “Among Our Top Picks” blog category posts instead) and normally I would not post a video of this less-than-stellar quality.

Then I watched the video and saw nothing but beauty and poetry in motion, Zhang Huoding simply mesmerizes. The death scene holds incredible drama, the supporting players give their all. Song Xiaochuan is superb.

Well, perhaps you should make up your own mind.



Mentioned on the star’s web site in the forums, it was downloaded from here and assembled from multiple parts from  by the ViDown tool on an old Windows XP SP1 box I keep for just such occasions. Then to resolve some flv format glitches it was converted to m4v using Handbrake-gtk on Linux.

Click here to download the video  The file size is 405MB and the format is m4v, playable in VLC.