Archive for July, 2012

Lü Yang


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):

actors Zhang Ke and Wang Peiyu

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).

heavies are busted

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:

Click here to download Part 1 of the video

(mp4 format, file size 920 MB)

Click here to download Part 2 of the video

(mp4 format, file size 843 MB)



Zhang Huoding

Hopefully they will be used again many times before that happens.

Thank you Fern!

It seems they start to take it to heart.

The website of the Shanghai Jingju Company was revamped too!


Hello Chinese Opera fans,

I owe you a review. As Bertrand already announced, I had the opportunity to check out a production of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (fancy official name of the Beijing National Grand Theatre), by the performers of China National Peking Opera Company and the Peking Opera Theater of Beijing, staged in the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest. Click here for more information.


CNPOC had made some efforts recently to introduce the term “jingju” to the Western audience, presuming “Beijing Opera” might be misleading. I have foreseen the consequences: Westerners will desperately try to pronounce jingju properly, and each nation ends up with a completely different word.
In the case of Hungarians, the result was tyintyü.

So let’s see this tyintyü, Red Cliff. Bertrand posted a video with the full opera previously, the article features multiple program introductions that summarize neatly what the intentions of NCPA were with this production. As Bertrand noted, it’s a hybrid. Very hybrid. Some segments were 99% traditional Beijing Opera, some had Western opera taste, some left a strong Broadway smell.
I really don’t want to go into details about the heated discussion what’s going on right now at Weibo, many comments are very hardcore, many make sense, however almost none consider the feelings of foreigners, even if the speaker is not genuinely entitled to discuss the matter.

Technically speakings, is Red Cliff jingju? No. Is it acceptable to call it jingju nonetheless, or is it completely deceiving foreigners? Ruining the reputation of China’s national essence? Wasting the taxes payed by Chinese citizens? I don’t think so. Fact one who isn’t familiar with Beijing Opera won’t get a crystal clear picture of it by watching Red Cliff, however it might sparkle some interest in his heart.
Let’s be sincere, how many of us started our Beijing Opera watching career with Yan Jupeng gramophone recordings? You get the point.

Better proceed to my actual report-back.

The show was moderated by popular hungarian actor, Péter Rudolf, widely known for his hip sense of humor. He read out loud a brief introduction about Beijing Opera in general, how it came into being, what are the main roles, everything was correct and well-phrased. He also precisely delineated the story, the Chinese-Hungarian booklet also contained a nice plot summary and detailed cast and crew lists. What’s more, Hungarian translation of the dialogues and arias were displayed during the performance, but I didn’t really watch because I find it distracting, and the screen was too high up for me anyways. Now and then I peeped and the sub seemed to be fair, yet not as good as ninedragonspot’s translations.

As expected, spactators were warned to switch off every mobile phone and camera during the show, I made a few sound recordings but committed the classic rec/pause mix-up mistake in the dark, thus gracefully switching my camera off during Zhu Qiang’s single bigger scene I was waiting for.

Wang Yige (王奕戈), who recently changed her name to 王奕謌 (possibly hinting that she’s a hybrid performer herself, singing also in Western and folk style), delivered a marvelous intro and outro from the orchestra pit, although the songs had nothing to do with traditional jingju, fitted the general feeling of the whole opera.

Wang Yige wore an elegant yet somewhat revealing black dress, with lots of tastefully arranged jewelry. I had a first row seat, so I could effortlessly have a close look at the musicians, instruments and scores. Almost every fellow citizen did the same in the intermission, actually scores and instrumentation seemed to be the biggest hit, discussed animatedly by spectators.

I was wedged between senior ladies (who constantly whine about their pension, yet can afford a ticket that costs 10% of the wage of an average Hungarian citizen), I think they really enjoyed the performance, although they commented that the gongs and drums are too loud, and Li Hongtu’s voice perforates their eardrums. I restrained myself from retorting “What if they would have brought Jin Xiquan?”, it would have been pointless. Li Hongtu surely left a good impression on me, I liked him much better live than on videos.
All in all everyone was amplified optimally, except Zhang Jianfeng, somehow I couldn’t hear him properly. It’s a pity since I choose this performance instead of the Yu Kuizhi-Li Shengsu version because I wanted to check out this young Xi school laosheng on the spot.

This show was featuring many-many performers, most of them spent only a few minutes on the stage, I felt this is some kind of waste, I couldn’t hear Du Zhe or Zhang Kai sing a paragraph of reasonable length. However I caught sight of my beloved Zhan Lei in the crowd of soldiers, also he had a short armor-less fighting scene later. Sun Shangxiang was played by Zhang Shujing, pauvre petite dropped her spear once, this was the single bigger flaw I noticed during this show.

I won’t elaborate on the story of Red Cliff, you could see exactly the same performance in the previously posted video. I may add that the stage sets are not that huge and distracting as they seem.

Embarrassing moment during the performance:
In one of the scenes of Xiao Qiao (portrayed by Dou Xiaoxuan) and Zhou Yu (portrayed by Li Hongtu), Zhou lets out a really squeaky “Niangziiii!” (My wife!). This moment was rewarded with a noticeably loud laughter by one of my fellow citizens, I wished to crawl under a rock and explode there.

However, Li Shengsu was very satisfied with the audience previous day, she said during her 30 years career of performing Beijing Opera, she never met such warm welcome. PR or not, at least our town won’t go down in history like the place populated by barbarians.

A few photos that aren’t too blurry for your viewing pleasure:

During curtain call, I handed my little packet with a plush toy to one of the musicians, asking him to forward it to Zhu Qiang. For my relief he was pretty enthusiastic about the unexpected task, and kept his word because after everyone removed make-up in Planck time and the performers were dragging themselves to the tour bus, I spotted Zhu Qiang examining my plushie.

Of course I took the opportunity to ask for a photo and introduced myself with my online nickname. Previously we exchanged a few messages and although I mentioned I’m foreigner, he thought I’m ethnic Chinese.
He was talking to me fairly enthusiastically, I was just nodding continuously, repeating “I don’t really understand”, finally after taking a few photos we parted with the conclusion it will be better to keep contact online in written form. God bless the net. (I finally got back that “Follow” I was longing for. XD)

I’m not very fond of exposing my appearance on the net, yet I don’t think it would be fair to not post a photo, so here it is:

On the picture with Li Hongtu I look so horrible that first I didn’t want to share it, but managed to handle the issue:

Meanwhile the whole cast and crew arrived to Prague, the hotel is somewhat far from the inner city but they are doing fine.

2012-07-12 Everyone returned to Beijing in order.

Media feedback:

Our own Fern will be seeing Zhang Jianfeng, Dou Xiaoxuan and Li Hongtu performing at the Hungarian State Opera House  in (hot! hot!) Budapest.

She will be easy to spot: a slim blonde in a black dress sitting close to the stage who is singing along to the words.


No need to say, “enjoy” this time!


My peer-to-peer downloads often take a couple of weeks to finish and often when I add a link to my program, the Chinese characters in the file name becomes garbled because somewhere along the line something was not encoded in UTF-8. Weeks later, when the file is finally completely downloaded, I try to figure out what show I managed to get based only on a date and file size. Usually, Fern’s listing of current videos here resolves the problem.

In the rare cases when something isn’t listed, I check with Fern directly in case I have something she might not have yet. It’s happened before in the past, it might even happen again!  😉

For this particular show, Fern returned me a complete cast list along with the file title and I was a bit shamed not to have noticed a couple of obvious performers as I scanned through the video. So let’s call this post a collaboration between Fern and I, adding she deserves most  of the credit for this one!

This show was presented on 2006-10-02 at the Chang’an theater in Beijing. As Fern describes it, It’s a dan role “this school-that school highlights” performance. So, lots of ladies in this 3 hour show with a couple of favourite performers thrown in : Lü Yang, Li Jie and Wang Rongrong.

The show program:


Su San Sent Out Under Guard with Liu Wei

Liu Wei

Su San Sent Under Escort has already been discussed briefly here. It is based on part of a larger opera called 《玉堂春》Yu Tangchun (Story of Su San).  You can follow what happens to Su San next after this segment here.

This segment is 20 minutes long.

Liu Wei starts off well and is greeted warmly by the audience. She has a bit of a “Barbie doll” voice in her dialogues, more huādàn than qīngyī in delivery to my perception. But don’t trust what I say, it might be a particularity of the Huang school delivery. Fern has thoroughly upstaged all Chinese opera web sites with a terrific page on her blog listing different schools with sound  clips here. Unfortunately no clip for the Huang school yet, so hard for me to tell at this point.

I liked the orchestration and delivery in the aria beginning at 9:31, very pleasing arrangement and execution. Highlight is 12:31, deservedly well applauded.


Jin Yunu · Bridal Room with Tang Hexiang and Liu Mingzhe

Tang Hexiang

I’m not familiar with this opera or the performers. It looks like the bridegroom has some explaining to do to his lovely bride. Did he oversleep on his wedding day? I wouldn’t have in his place, Tang Hexiang promises a lot of blissful marital aggravation! Her singing at 33:34 is spectacular, and so is 37:50 to 38:00. She even has a Guo Wei profile going for her:

Tang Hexiang

She’s a hot number, all right. Xun school, and a young performer from the 4th 2004 to 2008 class according to Fern’s Who’s Who. So she wasn’t even a graduate when she performed this. If you want to see her perform this bit again, try the peer to peer link Fern mentions here.

Fern added, “As I was checking this out, I discovered a typo in the opera Jin Yunu cast, although Zhang Wei is credited, the performer was obviously Liu Mingzhe, so I double checked on the net and made the change.”


The Unicorn Purse · Spring and Autumn Pavilion with Lü Yang and Zhang Chanyu

Lü Yang

Faithful to the original play, a man plays the vivacious handmaiden in this excerpt.

The Unicorn Purse is an opera I’ve seen so often now, it has sort of become like a Hungarian cucumber salad to me, a dish which depending on where you are eating can be served hot or cold, with or without paprika, sweet or salty, and (most importantly) with or without sour cream. It’s never served the same, but it’s always the same. (In my opinion, cold, salty, with paprika and just a bit of sour cream is best I think.)

Yet no matter how blasé one might get after seeing this play too much, it’s undeniable that Lü Yang is in great voice here, dishing out unicorns with power and conviction. And no sour cream whatsoever.

Tale of the White Snake · Imprisoning Bai Suzhen with Chang Qiuyue, Liu Mingzhe, and Suo Mingfang

White Snake

Had not seen embroidery like this on the white snake before (?)


Tale of the White Snake · Broken Bridge with Wang Yan, Zhang Wei, and Yan Hongyu

Wang Yan

I liked this snake better, it has the scratchier accompanists and a more dramatic lead singer with a bigger voice.


The Drunken Concubine with Li Jie

Li Jie

Li Jie brings a lot of charisma and fine singing to this well-known Mei school play.

Every slow movement counts here and is intriguing to watch. At 2:06:00 she is superb.

Poco agrees with me, this segment is the best reason to download this video! Fern, is there a longer video of Li Jie in this role?

All in all, very very nice!

Top Scholar as Matchmaker with Wang Rongrong, Tan Xiaozeng, Zhu Qiang, Bao Fei.

Wang Rongrong

This final segment is double the length of the others. Wang Rongrong is the star of the show tonight, and her fan club is here.

I checked my files, I have another brief video of Wang Rongrong singing an aria from this opera, but not a full-length performance. It might be worth tracking down.

Here, Wang Rongrong demonstrates simply superb control, 2:15:02 is a good case in point. She will hit these high points at least half a dozen more times during this 45 minute performance.

Wang Rongrong is a classic Beijing Opera performer: she does not overdo her roles, she is a total team player who scores goal after goal.

Wang Rongrong out of make-up looks nothing like she does in make-up. Also, you have to be pretty observant to spot the differences in costume between Li Jie and Wang Rongrong on this video.

Many audience members rush to the exits instead of applauding, which is a bit of a sad final note for an otherwise splendid show.

The original file name was 京剧-折子戏-20061002北京-旦角流派专场.mkv, the length of the show is just under 3 hours, file size is 823.4 MB. Video size is a bit smallish, but it can be stretched a bit to make it bigger and the sound is excellent.

Click here to download the video

And remember, don’t drink like a concubine and drive.