Mon 17 Dec 2012
I’m still reeling on Sunday afternoon from two back to back office Xmas parties, one on Friday night for my job where our spouses were not invited, and the very next night on Saturday for my wife’s workplace where spouses were invited. The latter started off with at least 4 glasses of champagne in a row and half a dozen simply delicious rolls of salami with cream cheese in the middle and a sour sweet pickle… In short, “Where am I? How did I get here?”
The big news right now is that Fern is planning a trip to Beijing. She’ll be there in February for a few weeks right on time for the Spring Festival. I don’t expect she’ll be blogging much while she is on the loose there, but I am pretty sure she’ll be seeing as many Beijing Operas and hobnobbing with as many performers as she possibly can. I would be very surprised if I don’t see a CCTV opera video in 2013 with a tall blonde sitting in the front rows with two big bags of popcorn on her lap and a powerful camera around her neck.
Looking back on this year, this blog has brought me a lot of non-alcoholic good cheer, the best kind I might add (oh, my aching head). Fern did such splendid posts http://www.music-china.org asked last week if they could reproduce her great reference piece on Beijing Opera roles. One of these days, we should think about writing a book together, Fern. Now there’s a five year plan.
And now for Part Two of Qingyi Disney!
As I mentioned in a previous post, the high point of the past year in Beijing Opera for me has been this year’s CCTV Jingju contest, where the best new performers of each role in China competed against each other in front of judges. The order in which these performers are presented is a bit arranged for good TV programming rather than luck of the draw. I like this, each of these shows have a lot of surprises as well as variety.
First is Cai Xiaoying (蔡筱滢) of the Shanghai Jingju Theater singing from opera《春秋配》 Chun Qiu Pei (Romance of Chunfa and Qiulian).
I’m not familiar with this performer, but she comes from Shanghai, home of the most exciting Beijing Opera performers in China today. Quite dramatically, her voice cracks on her very first intervention. High drama nerves!
She comes in wearing tasteful shades of jade. “Green represents the east and wood, as well as spring and youth.” (Alexandra Bonds, “Beijing Opera Costumes” page 70). There are some very fine embroideries on her sleeves too, also in jade, which look like stains at first when you watch the video. But no, these are details in the costume so fine pretty much only the performer herself can see them.
She sings in a deep tone, a bit like Li Haiyan, with a devilishly skilful tremolo at the onset.
Her erhu player with striking hands pulls off exceptional notes at 16:30 which draw applause.
Overall though, I thought this performance dragged and lacked a bit of electricity. I thought the judge’s eye-liner was more riveting:
But really, you should never listen to me. Even I don’t listen to me when I tell myself two glasses of champagne is enough.
Technical humbug: the sound is not loud on this video, but it could be my computer’s fault. I just upgraded to Ubuntu 12, hated the new desktop, then downgraded to the Fallback desktop. Even the picture on my screen is not a nice as it used to be. In January right after the holidays I will be changing to Linux Mint 14 and these problems might go away.
Second is Zhang Ruilin (张蕊麟) of the Tianjin Youth Jingju Troupe singing from opera《昭君出塞》 Zhaojun Chu Sai (Wang Zhaojun Departs to the Frontier).
In her opening credits, with hair askew, Zhang Ruilin’s photo looks like the mug shot of a bank hold up accomplice:
But appearances are deceiving! One of the qualities of a really fine Beijing Opera performer is that you are grabbed by them doing almost nothing. Zhang Ruilin entering grabbed me like that. Wearing one of the most beautiful headdresses imaginable, she saunters in at 33:00, floats poetically as she pauses and then keeps going, and I am gripped as if I was watching the climax of a Hitchcock thriller.
Breathtaking moves is the name of the game here. Her elaborate intro choreography just keeps going and going. She really puts on a show.
Her voice is not unique, but she controls it well at the onset. Unfortunately by 42:00 after her strenuous routine she is noticeably out of breath. Perhaps she should have shortened the workout. Still, it does not matter. This is really memorable. The musical arrangements are unusual and the three performers sing together at 47:00 which is very rare.
I don’t know this opera, which seems steeped in folklore, but the source material looks terribly exciting judging from this first class, top notch, at times mind boggling, right up there in the stars performance.
Whew, I’m exhausted. No need to go on, show’s over, right?
What? There’s more??
Third is Zhao Huan (赵欢) of the Shanghai Jingju Theater for whom I have very strong bias going in, I’m a really big fan! By the way Fern, we were discussing what souvenirs you could pick up for me in Beijing. I was thinking, how about an autographed stage slipper from Zhao Huan? That would be nice. In the video, she is singing from the opera《春闺梦》Chun Gui Meng (Dream in a Girl’s Chamber).
This opera selection is about as predictable as my response to having my champagne glass refilled. But in my heart, she is is singing it only for me.
On the down side, I have to say: in my honest opinion, Zhang Huoding’s version of this same scene is imitated here, and not surpassed. Not even close!
Part Two of the video opens with the fourth contestant, Li Shanshan (李珊珊) of the Tianjin Jingju Theater singing from《穆桂英挂帅》Mu Guiying Guashuai (Mu Guiying Takes Command).
This fine featured and quite expressive contestant does not make a dramatic entrance, she starts out standing there. She has a classic voice and delivery, a solidly traditional approach, perfect posture, she moves splendidly, and she is excellent.
Li Shanshan is a thoroughbred race horse in the Kentucky Derby. She is so synchronised to the accompaniment she looks almost mechanical. Li Shanshan has all the technique, delivery and charisma necessary to become the next Li Shengsu. She’s the real deal. As she hits her high notes, a head dress ornament falls off right on cue at 17:52.
I can find a lot of tiny faults in Zhao Huan’s delivery in this show, but certainly not with Li Shanshan’s. I really hope to see Li Shanshan in a full-length opera as soon as possible. If I saw this performance in a small theatre close up, I would feel like the luckiest person in the world.
And the judges place her fourth, which I totally and absolutely disagree with. What?! Did she sing all the wrong words to the arias?! No no no no no. No way, no how. This is a first or close second place performance.
Fifth is Zhang Qian (张倩) of the Shandong College of Arts singing from《望江亭》Wangjiangting (Riverside Pavilion).
Her intro video shows a bad complexion, but her voice is awesome. She easily hits an impressive high note right from the start. A performer prettier out of costume than in costume, she has powerful volume and the microphone buzzes often as a result.
Finally, sixth is Pan Xin (潘欣) of the Hubei Jingju Theater singing from 《洛神赋》 Luoshen Fu (Ode to the Goddess of Luo River). Pan Xin has the most interesting talking voice of all six contestants in the pre show, very husky.
When she starts singing, however, Mei school! Very high pitched. I didn’t see that coming.
She has a superb profile, a wonderful nose and lovely features. The aria is slow tempo and she moves slowly. Is her costume embroidered? That is almost unbelievable. If it is, it’s a museum piece.
In concusion, my favorites for this show were Zhang Ruilin in second place and Li Shanshan absolutely in first place. Boos and hisses to the judges.
As for Zhao Huan, well, I’m willing to forget what I saw in exchange for that stage slipper.
I’ll avoid saying, “Cheers!” today and instead end this post with, “Peace and love, take care!”