Mon 24 Nov 2014
Chinese Opera 戏曲
Sat 15 Nov 2014
Here is my favorite opera singer singing her signature role after too many years absence from the stage. Her fans were waiting! This is the show that provoked pandemonium and 5 encores last spring, of which you get the briefest taste here at the end of the two hour performance.
It’s a bit of a bummer that Vidown can only download a corrupted version of the video for this, certainly the Beijing Opera comeback of the year.
However, thanks to zijunzhang, the video can be viewed (and downloaded using the Firefox addon “Video DownloadHelper”) from here.
If and when I find a higher resolution video, I will surely post it . I know it’s out there, somewhere…
Sat 9 Aug 2014
I would like to introduce a fantastic person here, Nikhi Chau, who provided excellent English translations to many Beijing Opera classics. We all know that an English subtitled Chinese Opera video is a rare treasure, so I sincerely hope we will see many more in the future!
So far, you can watch the subtitled versions of Silang Visits His Mother, Tale of the White Snake, Qin Xianglian and The Unicorn Purse here, a perfect weekend program!
Thank You Nikhi!
Sat 5 Jul 2014
I’m not quite healed yet from the hernia surgery, no major issues so far but absolutely no break dancing allowed yet. Anyhow, on to important things, i.e. a complete Beijing Opera from this year featuring two well-known performers!
《赵氏孤儿》Zhaoshi Guer (The Orphan of the Zhao Family), headlining:
Mu Yu (actor) as Cheng Ying
Dou Xiaoxuan 窦晓璇 (actress)
and Li Yang 李扬 as the evil minister Tu.
Also in the cast:
Jiang Yishan 姜亦珊, Li Xiaopei 李小培, Li Yang 李扬, Tan Zhengyan 谭正岩 and Zhang Kai 张凯.
The Orphan of the Zhao Family, or Orphan of the House Tcho (趙氏孤兒), or The Great Revenge of the Orphan of Zhao Family (趙氏孤兒大報仇) was mentioned in the “Historical Records” by Sima Qian ( 2nd century B. C.) and in the “New Anecdotes” by Liu Xiang (77-6 B.C.). Capturing the popular imagination, it has been retold in many forms. It became a play during the Yuan Dynasty, written by Ji Junxiang (紀君祥) in the second half of the 13th century. It is the first Chinese play known in Europe. Joseph Henri Marie de Prémare translated the play into French as “L’orphelin de la maison de Tchao, tragédie chinoise“, which was collected in Jean Baptiste Du Halde’s “Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique et physique de l’empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinoise“, published in 1735 (the play was published separately in 1755). Thomas Hatchett (active 1721-1741) published an adaptation of the play in English, “The Orphan of China” (1741) that changes the ending significantly so that the play conforms to classical conventions of the three unities.
Loyalty is the theme of the story, as the hero sacrifices his own son and friend to save the life of another family’s orphan whose family has bee massacred in order that the toddler, once grown up, can later avenge them.
In the state of Jin in today’s southern Shanxi province during and Autumn period ( 770-476 B. C. ), the King of Jin‘s evil minister Tu (屠岸贾) becomes jealous of the growing power and popularity of an upright minister named Zhao Shuo. The minister decides to eliminate his rival.
Zhao is framed and accused of treason for having attempted to murder the King of Jin. Zhao’s entire family except Lady Zhuang (庄姬), the King’s half-sister who had married one of Zhao’s sons, is executed. Before long a son was born to the unfortunate widow.
Hearing of the birth of the Zhao baby, Tu insists that the law must be enforced and the infant executed as well. The mother, however, is too clever to let her precious baby be thus ruthlessly killed. The child had been put under the care of Cheng Ying (程婴), one of the faithful followers of her husband, whose wife happened to give birth to a son about the same time and was able to nurse both babies.
Failing in his search, Tu offeres a great rewards to anyone who delivers the baby within ten days. He threatenes further that he will kill all the babies in the kingdom of the same age as the Zhao child, if he is not found.
Cheng Ying consults with Gongsun (公孙杵臼), another faithful follower of Zhao, and they decide on the following heart breaking plan:
Cheng sacrifices his only son while Gongsun, at the cost of his life, pretends to conceal the Zhao baby on the Shouyang Mountain (首阳山). Cheng reports on Gongsun’s “perfidy”. Tu sends men and finds the (wrong) baby. In order to test the friendship between Cheng Ying and Gongsun, Tu ordered the former to thrash the latter. They both play the tragic game so well that goes as they had planned. Gongsun and Cheng’s child are executed.
Refusing to accept the reward offered him, Cheng requests instead that he and “his son” be allowed to stay in Tu’s mansion, for they, he asserts, might be assassinated by some other (imaginary) follower of Zhao because he had given information concerning the baby’s hiding place.
The stupid minister not only shelters them under his own roof, but adopts the baby and educates him with utmost care. When the fortunate child became a powerful young man, he, following Cheng’s instructions, kills Tu and his family in revenge.
As plans go, this one is a doozy.
This is a lavish production! With shifting scenery, a great number of different costumes to marvel at, and many interesting painted faces. The executioner has a nice pink one:
The complete cast in Chinese:
1、穆雨 饰 程婴； 2、窦晓璇 饰 庄姬（前）； 3、姜亦珊 饰 庄姬（后）； 4、李小培 饰 魏绛； 5、李扬 饰 屠岸贾； 6、谭正岩 饰 赵盾； 7、张凯 饰 公孙杵臼； 8、梅庆羊 饰 晋灵公； 9、常秋月 饰 卜凤； 10、魏学雷 饰 赵武； 11、苏从发 饰 赵朔； 12、王磊 饰 韩厥； 13、翟岗 饰 裴豹； 14、曹阳阳 饰 祖麂
Dou Xiaoxuan is a headliner in China, winner of the last 2012 qingyi competition, and a crowd favorite. She is the only actor in this play loudly hailed on her arrival about 40 minutes in. In this opera she has a brief but very tragic role as the mother of the sacrificed son. She sings well and even has a costume change.
Despite Dou, who adds some spice to the broth, this is essentially a male role (sheng) play.
There are a lot of nice moments in this. Let me know which one is your favorite!
Click here to download Part 1 of the video
Sun 15 Jun 2014
And so, here is the final opera in the series at the Chang’an Grand Theater commemorating the 110th birthday of Cheng Yanqiu. It features a performer the Chinese clearly appreciate, Chi Xiaoqiu.
锁麟囊》Suo Lin Nang (The Unicorn Purse) – Chi Xiaoqiu 迟小秋, Xu Mengke 徐孟珂, Hou Mei侯美 , Lang Shilin 郎石林, Mei Qingyang 梅庆羊, Mu Yu 穆雨
The tempo is a bit faster on some arias, Mu Yu is in the cast. The chous are different. Let’s have one more unicorn, why not? It’s time better spent.
Fern attended this performance while in Beijing last month. She wrote on her blog:
“(At the very end of part 2 of) the CCTV video, you can see a very old man when the audience is shown. He is the son of Cheng Yanqiu, hardly could walk, he was helped to step on stage to say a few words. There was also an old lady, a disciple of Cheng, I forgot her name, she spoke for a long time after curtain call, and gifted two rare items to Chi: a shawl Cheng used to wear on stage, and a head ornament that Cheng gave her long ago. She praised Chi for resembling Cheng so much and (the latter) was so moved that she cried for a long time on the stage.”
Thu 12 Jun 2014
Above: Guo Wei
Below: Lü Yang
and Sui Xiaoqing:
I had these files uploaded a couple of weeks now but not posted yet.
Here is the program:
2014-05-20, Chang’an Grand Theater
《龙凤呈祥·洞房》Long Feng Cheng Xiang·Dongfang (The Auspicious Dragon and Phoenix·Bridal Room) with Sui Xiaoqing 晓庆
《荒山泪》Huang Shan Lei (Tears On Barren Hill) with Guo Wei 郭玮
《六月雪》Liuyue Xue (Snowfall In June) with Lü Yang 吕洋
The show poster is here.
Sat 31 May 2014
Another in the series of Cheng Yanqiu anniversary performances is another of my favorite actresses, Li Haiyan 李海燕, performing the Beijing Opera《梅妃》Meifei (Imperial Concubine Meifei) on 2014-05-22 at the Chang’an Grand Theater.
Fern provided the poster for this performance here.
Original file names:
《CCTV空中剧院》 20140522 京剧《梅妃》 1/2
《CCTV空中剧院》 20140522 京剧《梅妃》 2/2
According to Wikipedia, Consort Mei (d. 755) was an imperial consort of the Chinese dynasty Tang Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang. She was one of Emperor Xuanzong’s favorite concubine for a time, before being spurned then ultimately left behind to be murdered during a rebellious attack.
Looking around for a story for this opera, I found a serious scholarly work here which contained:
“Alluding to the story found under the topic of “Mei fei zhuan” 梅妃傳 (The Bibliography of Imperial Concubine of Apricot (note: Wikipedia translates as plum, not apricot) in a famous Tang fiction collection by Cao Ye 曹鄴 (?816 – ?875) entitled Yangshan Gu shi wen fang 陽山顧氏文房 (Gu’s Study of Yang Mountain). The story relates that Emperor Xuan of Tang 唐玄宗 (685 – 762) once secretly bestowed the imperial concubine of Mei one hu of pearl, which was a tribute from another country. However, Mei did not accept it. The emperor was not happy about that and requested the imperial musical bureau to use new music to sing about it, which was titled “one hu of pearl.” Later on, this allusion was used to stress the greatness of a gift. “
The sound and picture of this video are exceptional. Li Haiyan is in excellent voice, with that golden soprano tone of hers I find so pleasing.
Tue 27 May 2014
Finally succeeded in uploading this! Here she is, Géza!
Beijing Opera, 2014-05-21《碧玉簪》Biyu Zan (The Green Jade Hairpin) – Liu Guijuan 刘桂娟, Ji Peng 姬鹏, Sun Liying 孙丽英, Liu Yijie 刘轶杰, Liu Shuyun 刘淑云, Ma Liansheng 马连生, Liu Shujun 刘树军
The story for this opera can be found here.
See Fern’s blog here for more info on this series of concerts at the Chang’an Grand Theater in Beijing commemorating the 110th birthday of the old dan master, Cheng Yanqiu.
Sat 24 May 2014
The 110th anniversary celebration of the great 20th century artist ChengYanqiu is being celebrated with a series of performances that include pretty much what I consider all the great Chinese actresses right now.
I’m very excited about this video, of course. Here is a concert that was broadcast live, providing the first video of Zhang Huoding since her return from “retirement”. Thank you Fern for pointing it out to me and for providing the concert posters here.
I was expecting a video of the Butterfly Lovers or The Unicorn Purse to surface at CCTV first, but here she is in her third performance this year, in an opera we’ve seen her in many times before, Chun Gui Meng (Dream in a Girl’s Chamber).
But that’s in Part 2 of the video.
In Part 1, we have several lesser-known but quite excellent actresses performing excerpts from other operas.
《三击掌》San Jizhang (Clapping Hands Three Times) – Kang Jingyu 康竞予
《贺后骂殿》He Hou Ma Dian (Empress He Accuses the Usurper) – Bai Siran 白思然
《朱痕记》Zhu Hen Ji (Story of the Red Birthmark) – Zhai Qian 翟谦
《武家坡》Wujiapo (The Wujia Slope) – Li Li 李丽
《断桥》Duan Qiao (The Broken Bridge) – Zhang Bai 张白 (taught by Zhang Huoding)
In Part 2, 春闺梦》Chun Gui Meng (Dream in a Girl’s Chamber) – Zhang Huoding 张火丁 is reunited with her long-time partner Song Xiaochuan, performing this opera for the first time in 6 years.
Sound is as compressed as the audience is enthusiastic!
Click here to download part 1 of the video (mp4, 533 MB or so)
I just came across a nice 2009 performance by Zhang Huoding of the same opera, performed at the Tianchan Beijing Opera Center Yifu Theater in Shanghai. The scenery is different, a bit more modern in flavor.
Picture quality is a big blurry, but sound is nice. The original file was an old fashioned RMVB format found here thanks to the Zhang Huoding fan site. I converted it to mp4, a much more convenient file format, using the command line ffmpeg tool on Linux with the command:
ffmpeg -i zhang1.rmvb -r 25 -strict -2 -qscale 5 zhang1.mp4
The resulting mp4 is identical to the rmvb as far as I can tell.
Sun 18 May 2014
Zhang Huoding has been my favorite opera singer east and west combined for a while now. This website exists only because I discovered her interpretation of “Suo Lin Nang”, the Unicorn Purse. It’s her signature role and has become a solid standard other performers taking on the role compete with.
This week, I have been holding my breath and checking every day to see if CCTV has posted the videos for her 2014 comeback after an absence of several years. Her single 2014 Unicorn Purse performance last month resulted in audience exuberance rarely observed in a CCTV broadcast.
Yesterday, a 15 minute bio recap/teaser in Mandarin of her renewed Liang and Zhu/Butterfly Lovers production was posted here. The brief snippets we get show Zhang Huoding in stronger shape and voice than in the past.
This Sunday morning they posted another 15 minute recap on her new Unicorn Purse performed the very next day here.
Further, it was announced in a press conference last week that Zhang Huoding’s “Unicorn Purse” will be made into a movie. A live performance DVD (with harsh lighting) from many years ago is still available. At least two full length CCTV broadcast videos of this opera featuring this actress circulate constantly on the Internet, see here and here along with a third full-length version of Zhang Huoding lip-synching over a historic audio recording of Cheng Yanqiu performing it here.
What is the allure of Zhang Huoding’s “Suo Lin Nang”? What is the big deal?
Firstly, I think, this play is powerful emotionally on many levels. It hints at the suffering endured by the Chinese people by talking of “floods”, certainly a metaphor for all the catastrophes that befell the Chinese people in the first half of the 20th century. It speaks of suffering, human empathy, recognizing one’s faults and obtaining unhoped-for redemption. Secondly, Zhang Huoding in this role nails it with a studied traditional artistry that transcends language barriers and cultural boundaries.
However, the text for any opera is important for a thorough appreciation. With the subtle pantomimes of the Unicorn purse, this opera’s libretto is perhaps even more important than most.
Fern heroically provided her translation of this opera here.
Now Nikhi Chau posted his own translation in subtitles to another video made about 10 years ago, yesterday on Youtube.
You can view them at:
“Zhao Rongchen, Zhang Huoding’s teacher, was actually my great-uncle (my father’s uncle). That probably sounds more impressive than it really is; he stayed in China while his sister (my grandmother) immigrated to America, so I never actually met or spoke to him, unfortunately. And since my parents weren’t as into jingju as their parents were, I didn’t even know about him until recently. It’s been very interesting discovering this distant relative’s legacy! “
Nikhi was kind enough to pass along his text file of the English subtitles, you can download them here:
Thank you Nikhi! Now let’s all enjoy.