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!
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 operabeijing.com, I agreed. Stay tuned!
-end of part1-