Tue 10 Apr 2012
I’ve been meaning to post this for two weeks, but I am a bit scatter-brained these days. Too much Easter chocolate! Too much dessert!
Today we have a video of the Beijing Opera version of Hamlet starring Fu Xiru (傅希如) and Zhao Huan (赵欢) as Hamlet and Ophelia respectively. I posted an excerpt from this opera shot from the audience recently, this time this is a TV production shot in Shanghai. A very interesting hybrid jingju opera leaning resolutely toward the traditional but with fun elements thrown in.
I guess this is the production Fern missed in Edinburgh, titled as “The Revenge of Prince Zidan”.
This is not the first Asian twist of Hamlet, according to wikipedia the play was adapted kabuki-style and presented in Japan over a century ago.
Fu Xiru is a favourite of Fern’s and she has blogged often about him. This was the first time I really discovered him. I thought he was just a local media darling who was a bit of a foolish trickster, but he is in fact a first-class actor who performs back breaking physical stunts at the drop of a hat. He is not as high pitched as Jin Xiquan, but he is charismatic with a good voice and is spectacularly acrobatic. Here he is holding his leg up:
Here he is crouching AND holding his leg up:
I tried this myself today in my living room… NOT! Saying he is “supple” is almost ridiculous in this context. Somersaults, sidestepping over long distances on one foot James Brown style, spectacular crashes to the floor, Fu can do! He will play Hamlet with quite a lot of swagger and arrogance. He barks at other actors often.
The opera opens with the cemetery scene where the ghost of Hamlet’s father will reveal to him that he was murdered. A bit confusing here: there are two painted faces, making it hard to figure out who was the ghost of the father. This one is “prince of the netherworld”:
And this is Hamlet’s dead father returned as a ghost:
Needless to say, my eyes were on Zhao Huan, the Cheng school marvel, wondering whether her part and her material would be memorable. Unfortunately in this opera, she is a secondary player and sings only briefly in Part One.
Her opening aria at 40 minutes is a bit marred by successive video glitches, but she displays noticeably good control between 41:00 and 42:00. The duet that follows is quite atypical for a Beijing opera. Normally everyone takes turns singing, they do not sing together. Fu Xiru’s microphone is a bit louder than hers at the onset.
Hamlet rails in anger, Ophelia loves him regardless. His shouting and pushing Ophelia down to the floor is also “definitely not Beijing Opera”. Still, the scene is very well acted and interesting to watch.
Follows the preparation for the “play within a play”, where Hamlet asks actors to re-enact in court as “fiction” an assassination identical to his father’s in order to see his uncle’s reaction. Part one of the video ends rather abruptly.
Part Two shows the play within the play, admirable in the way its actors imitate marionettes on a string, a wonderful find and a superb analogy. Naturally the new king flees in dread at the sight of his re-enacted crime.
There are a couple of odd moments. One that struck me was Hamlet hovering behind his uncle with sword raised, hesitating to do him in.
The queen gets a lengthy Mei style aria at around 15:00 in, followed by a confrontation with her son where he pretty much spits every word at her. The dwarf is done in. Hamlet talks to his father’s ghost and his mother thinks him mad. It’s a tragedy!
Ophelia returns to pick flowers, now mad with grief. Zhao Huan sings a beautiful acapella number that is all too brief. Follows the introduction of the henchman (Laertes) who is hired by the king to assassinate Hamlet, and Ophelia sings her farewell aria, Zhao Huan’s finest moment in this opera. At 37:27, she matter-of-factly does a neat trick of folding her water sleeve by whipping it up and stabbing into it.
Fu Xiru sings extremely well in turn and the gravedigger scene scene follows. “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well.”
Ophelia’s funeral procession arrives. She has drowned in mysterious circumstances. Queen Gertrude sprinkles flowers on her. “Sweets to the sweet. Farewell!”
Fern looked over my shoulder as I was slowly piecing this post together, reminding me that the rest of the cast for this play was:
Guo Ruiyue 郭睿玥 as Hamlet’s mom,
Chen Yu 陈宇 as the evil uncle (Claudius),
Yan Qinggu 严庆谷 as the dwarf (Polonius),
Liu Dake 刘大可 plays Pan Guan, the underworld judge (both Fern and I thought he was great),
Geng Lu 耿露 (who is a girl!) plays the ghost daddy (photo below):
I found this play very visual, with interesting sets, lighting and fog effects. Like I said it is experimental, quite a bit western in feel at certain moments, and should be viewed as such. The story was a bit too familiar, which I think was a bit of a drawback. I find I am fascinated by Chinese Opera thinking and stories, and of course here we followed Shakespeare’s logic like a train on rails.
The volume on these videos is loud, be careful to lower it on your computer before starting. Overall sound and video are very good, except when there is fast movement, causing the video to blur a bit. The video also has occasional splicing glitches, but we’ve seen worse. Anyhow, if and when a better copy comes along, we’ll post it.
And (patent pending), enjoy!