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: french.china.org.cnwww.chncpa.org/2012-07-05www.chncpa.org/2012-07-09www.chncpa.org/2012-07-10