I really like Li Haiyan, she is a magnificent singer.
My phone rang twice, my 8 year-old son came in to fetch a ruler for his homework (the drawing table is in the basement, I’m on the second floor), my wife interrupted as well, all that, still… Li Haiyan’s entrance in the spectacular and uncharacteristically lavish production of Wenji filmed on 2011-09-12 at the Mei Lanfang Theater in Beijing cannot be marred. This is a very nice audience recording with good sound (just don’t forget to turn down the volume a bit) and a great HD picture (also known as “HQ” in Hungary) shot on a tripod.
We just went over the story for this opera, the story of a kidnapped princess who bears her captor two sons. Then, years later, her ransom is finally paid and she has to decide if she will return to her own country and abandon all her loves behind.
This is a very well lit play, especially for Beijing Opera, with tasteful, lush set decorations, wonderful painted backdrops inspired to my eyes by the Canadian Group of Seven, all of which translates to a “hybrid play” of Beijing Opera, not for purists of the genre. If you saw this set’s furniture in a retail store, it would cost $7000 for the calligraphy table alone.
Li Haiyan enters wearing an absolutely gorgeous costume and headdress and sings rather quietly at first. She moves delicately, playing a creature of perfumed splendor with subtlety in a sumptuous production where everything is big and in your face.
Experimenting is bound to happen, and indeed, there is an odd moment of pre-recorded music at 45:00, with Li Haiyan standing looking stunned, followed by a (canned ?) serenade over dialogue. This sequence was not particularly successful I think, but is the exception overall.
There is perhaps too much dialogue by secondary players. The “boy” is shrill to my ears, played by a petite adult actress almost a head shorter than the other actors.
The end of Li Haiyan’s aria which begins at 52:00 segues into a nice but out of place orchestral sweep that begins at 54:00 which feels quite a bit “modern red”. This happens again during Song Xiaochuan’s next aria.
In part two, Li Hayan arrives “by chariot”. This should have been one of the highlights of the opera, but Li Haiyan is not entirely convincing. Bad miking? Strange arrangement? Sore throat? Music too loud and the performer can’t hear herself on stage without monitors? Or is her singing too subtle with some of it is lost in the 12th row?
Her best moments comes as her character visits the tomb (on her pilgrimage home or as a side trip before going home?) during the 7 minutes or so that begin at 28:00. She plays hesitation and indecision in a very low key fashion, no obvious pantomime or high drama.
The final farewell takes forever (I thought she was halfway home already?) I’m confused, the son stays with her at the end in this one?
In conclusion, a splendid show, despite a couple of off-kilter details.
It would have been nice to be been standing on stage right next to Li Haiyan in full costume as she was singing it.
Click here to download part 1
Click here to download part 2
Thank you to Fern who sent me the link to this admirable fan’s page at tudou.
(originally published on: Jun 20, 2011)(Updated 2013-04-23 to fix broken links)
More from a singer I’m really getting to like a lot, Li Haiyan. We saw her a while back in the “Flowers Fragrant” post. Fern has another nice video of her here.
First, a 5 minute video clip from the opera “Ying Tai Kang Hun” or “Yingtai against marriage” or “Zhu Yingtai Resists Marriage” (英台抗婚).
A DVD of this particular performance can be purchased here. This production has nice close-ups and good sound, but is a typically low-budget production with spectators chatting in the background… Still, I was very happy to receive it on the very day the letter carriers at Canada Post walked out on strike. Whew!
I’m a sucker for drama, and this is as good as it gets. Li Haiyan plays a character who has been delivered news not to her liking at all! No prince charming for her this lifetime.
Superb vocal control, solid acting. And what a great voice! There is a lot of feeling here. The audience roars approval, the orchestra sweeps beautifully in the background. Ah!
Download the video here. The file format is mp4, and can be viewed using VLC. File size is 143 MB.
The video ends before curtain call, surely Madame Haiyan received a bouquet for this performance?
Before I leave you with a couple of nice photos of Li Haiyan, here is an MP3 of the first track off her quite hard to find CD, “Peking Opera Stars – Li Haiyan“. I received my CD (not from my favorite online store I hasten to add) in tiny pieces, you’re lucky to hear this!
Download the MP3 here.
If you’re like me, you will be left wanting to hear more from Li Haiyan.
(update 2011-06-25) Fern spotted Li Haiyan singing oh-so-briefly at around 3 minutes into a video clip at:
She was looking sharp!
(originally published on: May 7, 2011)(Updated 2013-04-23 to fix broken links)
Today I am presenting a 2 1/2 hour concert featuring several exciting female singers from China, all performing Chinese opera arias. The concert concludes with Li Shengsu, the foremost performer of the genre.
This file is in .AVI format, of 922MB in size, and can be played using VLC.
I’m really excited about this one, but it took quite a long time for me to post this because I needed help in identifying the performers. The following notes were kindly prepared by Fern who has a terrific blog on Peking Opera in English of her own and which I check daily.
All kinds of flowers are fragrant
Li Guojing (李国静) – On the Dock (海港)
Shanghai Beijing Opera Theater, first class dan, mainly Mei school, also Shang school
Lü Huimin (吕慧敏) – Selling Water (卖水), Peach Blossom Village (桃花村)
China National Peking Opera Company 2nd Troupe, first class huadan, Xun school
Zhang Yanling (张艳玲) – Princess of Shuangyang (双阳公主), Han Ming Fei (汉明妃)
Tianjin Beijing Opera Theater, first class qingyi and daomadan, Shang school
Liu Guijuan (刘桂娟) – Chen Sanliang (陈三两), The Great Enthronement (大登殿)
Tianjin Youth Beijing Opera Troupe, first class qingyi, Cheng school
Zhang Huifang (张慧芳) – 2 excerpts from Xie Yaohuan (谢瑶环)
Hubei Beijing Opera Theater, first class qingyi, huashan, Zhang school
Zhang Ping (张萍) – Qiu Jin (秋瑾), Hong Yun Gang (modern opera) (红云岗)
Beijing Military Region Comrades-in-Arms Cultural Troupe, first class dan, Zhang
Zhao Xiujun (赵秀君) – Number One Scholar as Matchmaker (状元媒), 2 excerpts from Romance of the West Chamber (西厢记)
Tianjin Youth Beijing Opera Troupe, first class qingyi, Zhang school
Liu Wei (刘薇) – Romance of Chunfa and Qiulian (春秋配), Su San Sent Out Under Guard
Head of Wuhan Beijing Opera Theater, first class dan, Huang school (founded by
Deng Min (邓敏) – Turandot (图兰朵), Female Generals of the Yang Family (杨门女将)
China National Peking Opera Company 2nd Troupe, first class dan, Mei school
Li Haiyan (李海燕) – Zhu Yingtai Resists Marriage (英台抗婚), The Unicorn Purse (锁麟囊)
Head of China National Peking Opera Company 2nd Troupe, first class qingyi,
Li Jie (李洁) – Tale of the White Snake (白蛇传)
Jiangsu Beijing Opera Theater, first class dan, Mei school
Chi Xiaoqiu (迟小秋) – The Unicorn Purse (锁麟囊), Su San Sent Out Under Guard (苏三起解),
The Unicorn Purse again
Beijing Peking Opera Theater, head of Beijing Peking Opera Theater Youth Troupe,
first class qingyi, Cheng school
Li Shengsu (李胜素) – The Unofficial Biography of Taizhen (太真外传), Mu Guiying Takes
Command (穆桂英挂帅), Remorse at Death (生死恨)
Head of China National Peking Opera Company 1st Troupe, first class qingyi,
huashan, Mei school
I hope I haven’t skipped anyone.
Thank you very much, Fern! Now for my own observations…
It is apparent that out of make-up, some of these performers clearly struggle hard to hit their notes. Beijing Opera is not easy to sing.
I admit I am more partial to female singers (update note: that’s an understatement), so picking a favourite among these performances is like asking a 7 year old what is the best chocolate in a candy store!
I will say that although she was possibly the least photogenic, and did not gesture much, I was most impressed with the POWERFUL voice of Li Haiyan. By the screen shots above you can see the same microphone was used for all the performers and they were all standing at the same distance from it. However Li Haiyan’s voice is the only section in the concert where the microphone buzzes for ten minutes: her voice is too loud! She is a sort of hybrid, a bit of coloratura soprano with a deep voice that carries far, along with great Beijing Opera throat control. This made her a stand out, in my opinion. I don’t know anything else about her.
Deng Min was the most interesting to look at, obviously a very skilled actress. She much be superb in make-up and costume.
Best dressed was Liu Wei.
Zhao Xiujun is a ringer for Julia Pine, former guitarist of Ottawa punk band Last Prayer. Hi, Julia!
Li Shengsu is not allowed to leave after two tunes, and is chased back on stage to do one more number than the other performers.
The lighting is not optimal in this concert. Nor is the color in the video I think, I played with the video hue and saturation in VLC to get a picture I liked.
The video can be downloaded here.
Enjoy the “Flowers Fragrant” and see you next time !
(update note: here is the original comment for this post)