Sat 21 Jul 2012
This is a collaborative post between Bertrand and Fern, whose help was invaluable to get the facts straight. I also have to thank Géza again for forwarding me this video a couple of months ago via USB stick in the regular mail. I only got around to watching a couple of weekends ago and was bowled by the terrific performances. I emailed Géza to express my great enthusiasm for it and he replied, “Yes, the performance is superb. It is my all time favorite performance.”
According to the encyclopedia Fern, the cast for this show is Lü Yang, Wang Peiyu, Zhang Ke (I thought it was An Ping!), Wang Yan, Ma Jie, Li Hong, and Wei Yigang. It was filmed in 2000 at the Tianjin Binhu Theatre in Shanghai (武家坡+算军粮+银空山+大登殿).
The basic story of Wujia Po, or the Wujia Slope, is simple. Like Ulysses in the Odyssey, a husband (named Pinggui) who has been away for 18 years returns to find his wife (Baochuan) after making good. He finds her living humbly near a cave, unchanged. She does not recognise him and escapes into the cave. The husband decides to test her love by tempting her with silver and sweet promises to accompany him and leave on horseback. She firmly resists his many advances. Finally, he reveals his true identity and they are reunited.
Wujia Slope is part however of a larger epic, 《红鬃烈马》Hongzong Liema, (the red-maned fiery horse), which consists of numerous episodes. Fern has gathered synopses for each of the episodes here.
In the video presented here today, the husband and wife story takes up the first hour of the opera. It is a pretty bare bones Cheng school play with a simple costume for the female lead, few props and only two characters on stage.Everything depends on the delivery, a demanding task. I’ve posted a video of this before, performed by my favorite singer, Zhang Huoding, here.
After the first hour, there is an abrupt segue and the husband Pinggui and wife Baochuan have returned to the imperial court. This story shift was a bit hard to figure out. Fern had to lay it all out for me.
First comes the the “stock-taking” scene which is rarely staged. Repeating from Fern’s storyline post:
《算军粮》Suan Jun Liang (Stock-taking the Army Provisions) - At Wang Yun’s birthday celebration, a fierce argument is going on between Wei Hu and Xue Pinggui, regarding the provisions of the last 18 years. After the death of the Tang emperor, Wang Yun seizes the throne and sends troops to capture Xue Pinggui.
(in the picture below,Wei Hu and Pinggui argue):
Following is the 《银空山》Yinkong Shan (Silver Sky Mountain) scene with Wang Yan as Princess Daizhan. Eventually, with the help of Princess Daizhan, Pinggui (just like Ulysses), will wrest back the throne from usurpers. At the end of which the two losers are arrested by the foreigner furry soldiers of Daizhan and the emperor’s seal is taken back (symbolised by a brick covered in a yellow scarf).
Finally, the scene 《大登殿》Da Deng Dian (The Great Enthronement) closes the opera – Pinggui takes the throne and makes Baochuan Empress. He orders the execution of Wang Yun, but Wang Baochuan begs him to spare the life of her father. Pinggui gives in, and he even allows Mrs. Wang to live in the palace (everyone: peace and love, no hard feelings).
I posted a video of Zhang Huoding performing Da Deng Dian before here. That video begins with the arrest pictured above.
Zhang Huoding’s performances in the Wujia Slope scene often seems to my eyes to have become “the blueprint that must be followed” by younger Cheng school performers such as Lü Yang, Guo Wei and especially (just being a bit stern despite the fact she is my new crush) Zhao Huan. Fortunately, I am happy to say, in this video Lü Yang gives a very fresh performance, quite her own, playful and downright catty at times. Simply, her singing is the best I have heard her and her moves are the best I have seen her. She is so good during the five minutes that start at 10:45 that she is the only one startled when the audience member yells his approval at her exquisite gestures, and she cracks a thankful smile at 15:29 that is not in the script.
Wang Peiyu, another actress, plays the husband. This is perhaps not her most memorable role, but boy does she shine! Tremendous singing! It is clear that Lü Yang and Wang Peiyu clicked during this production.
The files Géza sent me were simply too big to post in .VOB format, so I used Daniusoft’s DVD ripper to reduce them to a format more adapted to the web. The source audio is not very loud and it has an audible hum, so to watch the video I recommend you do the same as I: in VLC, use the built-in pre-amplifier and graphic equaliser by going menu Tools > Effects and Filters > Audio Effects tab
My audio correction looked like this, but you might tweak to your own taste:
(mp4 format, file size 920 MB)
(mp4 format, file size 843 MB)