Entries tagged with “Zhang Huoding”.


Zhang Huoding and Song Xiaochuan, a photo from Zhang Huoding's 2 volume book of jingju photographs (click to view larger)

Hello and welcome to a special post!

Usually, Fern and I each write our own posts on our respective sides of the world. This time, however, we’re writing this post together before we make it public. That’s because this one features an unusual amount of files and requires more background than is customary to explain them properly. It might have been easier to split this up into many smaller posts, but I feel they belong together and wanted to keep them all together in one place. As it turns out, we kept finding better versions of each file as we were writing this post, so perhaps keeping it here all catalogued in one easy to find place will be a very good thing.

Normally when I write a post, I pretty much “wing it” and rely perhaps less on sleuthing and research and more on how I felt watching the piece. This time I couldn’t do that and really needed Fern’s help!

All the videos in this post are “re-enactments”, featuring modern Beijing Opera stars lip syncing over archival recordings of historically important past masters. These videos were part of an extensive effort by the Chinese Ministry of Culture a few years ago to preserve and disseminate rare and important, but poor-sounding, recordings of jingju.

In past posts here on operabeijing.com as well as on Ear Candy, Fern talked about an impressive box set of VCDs of these strange performances along with a performance of the White Snake (with Li Jie) here, I posted a Unicorn Purse with Zhang Huoding (now added to this post), and Fern posted a Jade Hairpin (with Zhang Huoding again) here (which we are also re-posting below).

Recently, links to a slew of rare videos popped up on the zhanghuoding.com web site forum. I posted three of these in a row a few weekends ago. At the same time there were links to this collection of operas that Zhang Huoding acted over either Cheng Yanqiu’s or Zhao Rongchen’s voices, operas which were part of the out-of-print box set of VCDs Fern mentioned.

A VCD, in case you didn’t know, is simply a regular old style CD-ROM disk with a big MPG video file on it along with a small (and usually dated) executable to allow you to view it. The video size of VCDs was originally intended for old 640 by 480 resolution computer monitors, and seem small by today’s standards. To “rip” a VCD, all that is required is to copy the largest file and rename it to an .MPG file name extension. There is no quality loss involved.

One could guess that the hardcore Zhang Huoding fans have been getting antsy because of the latest rumours (unsubstantiated, but credible) that our favourite singer has decided to retire for good, fed up with gruelling schedules and having to perform live when not in top shape or even sick. “The tickets have already been sold, what can you do?” It’s looking grim, so the fans could be seen as digging up those lost treasures. However the source of these files are all over the Chinese web sites, in various forms. A lot of people treasure these re-enactments.

As this is a post focusing on the Cheng school of Beijing Opera, let’s start by recalling some of the most well-known figures of that school here, although of course we can’t mention everyone.

The most well-known direct and formally accepted disciples of Cheng Yanqiu are Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛) and Wang Yinqiu (王吟秋). Besides their own achievements, our generation most likely remembers them as the masters of Zhang Huoding,  Chi Xiaoqiu, and Li Peihong.

Cheng Yanqiu had numerous although not formally accepted female disciples, among them Xin Yanqiu (新艳秋) and Li Shiji (李世济), two names that frequently pop up when Cheng school art is discussed. Liu Guijuan and Li Haiyan are both Li Shiji’s disciples.

From the third generation, Li Haiyan (李海燕), Zhang Huoding (张火丁), Chi Xiaoqiu (迟小秋), Li Peihong (李佩红) and Liu Guijuan (刘桂娟) are famed as the “five young Cheng dan”.

We also should keep an eye open for the newest talents, like Lü Yang (吕洋), Guo Wei (郭伟), Yang Lei (杨磊) (boy), Zhou Jing (周婧), Zhao Huan (赵欢), Jiang Zhi (江汁) and more.

Cheng Yanqiu’s repertoire included more than 80 plays, from which the most well-known operas were featured in the lip-synced series. Interestingly, although so closely associated with Zhang Huoding, Tale of the White Snake isn’t a traditional Cheng school play.

Getting back to the videos, it is important to specify that if you are new to Beijing Opera, then you should not begin with these videos as they are tiny sized, generally slow-paced and with “bad sound” — in fact, recorded before the birth of  stereo in the mid 20th century.

My feeling on watching them?

Well, the first thing that struck me was how well synced the actors are. You might think Zhang Huoding would have performed some of these operas more extensively after learning the parts down cold the way she did. I am second guessing this is because of aesthetic and artistic choices on her part rather than logistics. She seems more comfortable in smaller and simpler productions, and less cumbersome costumes: as Wenji, she seems weighed down by her outfit.

The second thing that struck me was that although there is a lot in that voice to miss, nevertheless you can really get into the groove of watching the play. The masters weren’t masters by name only.

That said, here are the plays.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 马昭仪 Ma Zhaoyi, audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Yu Shiwen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Wang Lijun.

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Click here to download part 3

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, live sound recording
Ma Zhaoyi: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Wu Yun (Wu Zixu): Yu Shiwen (于世文); Wang Lijun (王立军)
King Ping of Chu: Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Lang Shilin (郎石林)
Crown Prince Jian: Liu Xuetao (刘雪涛); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Meng Ying, the Qin princess: Li Danlin (李丹林); Li Haiqing (李海青)
Wu She, father of Wu Zixu: Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Fei Wuji: Xiao Yuelou (筱月楼); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Zhang Hua: Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Song Yuanbin (宋元斌)
Art consultant: Li Danlin (李丹林), Yu Shiwen (于世文)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2001/09

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Ma Zhaoyi:

Ma Zhaoyi was written by Cheng Yanqiu himself, founder of the Cheng school, and in its early years Mei Lanfang also performed it. Alternative titles of this play are《禅宇寺》Chen Yu Si (Chenyu Temple),《武昭关》Wu Zhao Guan (Wuzhao Pass) and《楚宫秋》Chu Gong Qiu (Fall in Chu Palace). Later around 1960, the Jingju Troupe of Beijing staged the re-adapted version of the drama with the leading cast of Zhang Junqiu, Tan Fuying and Liu Xuetao. The title was changed to《楚宫恨》Chu Gong Hen (Sorrow in Chu Palace), a title more frequently seen.

Three of the key characters of this play, the obnoxious King Ping of Chu, the imperial tutor Wu She and his son Wu Zixu were already discussed in this previous post.

The story:

King Ping sends his treacherous official, Fei Wuji, to the state of Qin to find a bride for his son, Prince Jian. Seeing the beauty of the Qin princess, King Ping decides to keep her for himself as a concubine, and forces the servant maid, Ma Zhaoyi, to impersonate the princess and marry his son.

Three years after, the king’s conspiracy gets revealed, so the king’s next evil plan is to murder Crown Prince Jian. The honest Wu She openly criticises the king, and gets in big trouble. The crown prince entrusts Ma Zhaoyi and their little son to Wu She’s brave son, Wu Zixu, and flees.

Ma Zhaoyi follows him with Wu Zixu to protect her, and they arrive to a Buddhist shrine called Chen Yu Si. The soldiers chasing them surround the temple. Ma Zhaoyi realises there’s no way out, so she entrusts her baby to Wu Zixu, then jumps into a well and dies. Wu Zixu later manages to break out of the trap, and escapes with the young prince.

Wang Lijun, first-class wusheng of the Jingju Theater of Tianjin, is a noted and much appreciated performer in Beijing Opera circles, with a Plum Blossom Prize (1986), a Mei Lanfang Gold Medal and a White Magnolia Award in pocket. His representative plays are Tiao Hua Che (Overturning the War Chariots)Lianhuantao (A Chain of Traps), Changbanpo – Hanjinkou (Changban Slope – Hanjin Pass), Yezhulin (Wildboar Forest) and more. He also works as laosheng with the plays Da Yu Sha Jia (The Fishermen’s Revenge) and Zuo Gong (Sitting in the Palace) in his repertoire. If you’re fond of Beijing Opera military dramas, you will frequently encounter Wang Lijun!

Zhang Huoding

Opera 三堂会审 San Tang Hui Shen (Su San’s Interrogation), audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Ye Shenglan, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Ye Shaolan.

Click here to download the video

(2013-12-07 update)

Click here to get the same opera in bigger format, with CCTV watermark

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1946, Shanghai Tianchan Stage, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhou Changhua (周长华)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun(白登云)
Su San: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Wang Jinlong: Ye Shenglan (叶盛兰); Ye Shaolan (叶少兰)
Liu Bingyi: Wang Shaolou (王少楼); Zhang Xuehai (张学海)
Pan Bizheng: Zhang Chunyan (张春彦); Sun Hongxun (孙洪勋)
Chong Gongdao: Xiao Shengxuan (萧盛萱); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Art consultant: Li Shiji (李世济)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2001/11

The script of this play is based on the middle part of larger opera《玉堂春》Yu Tangchun (Story of Su San). This epic story has had numerous adaptations and there are different Beijing Opera versions. For example, Mei Lanfang and Xun Huisheng inserted a scene between the “interrogation” and the “reunion” parts.

The preceding scene, Su San Sent Under Escort has already been discussed briefly here. Su San (her other name is Yu Tangchun) is falsely accused with a crime, and she is transported to Taiyuan under the guard of Chong Gongdao, in order to review her judicial case. This scene is often staged separately, it’s either titled 《女起解》Nü Qi Jie (Woman Sent Under Escort) or《苏三起解》Su San Qi Jie (Su San Sent Under Escort), they are one and the same.

The story continues with the interrogation. The literal meaning of the title, San Tang Hui Shen is “Three Office Joint Hearing”. This refers to the juridical process when the highest level senior officials from three departments hear the details of the a case together at the same time and place. If you can imagine a woman in chains, standing before three high magistrates to defend herself — tremendous pressure! What’s more, one of the interrogators is Wang Jinlong, Su San’s true love, who suffers a nervous breakdown during the trial. Fortunately the other two officials, Pan Bizheng and Liu Bingyi, are honest and examine the details carefully.

In the end, Su San is freed and rehabilitated.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 文姬归汉 Wenji Gui Han (Wenji Returns to her Homeland), audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Yu Shiwen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Zhang Xuehai.
[I posted an aria from this opera performed by Zhang Huoding here].

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1953, Shanghai, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Zhang Lanyou (张澜友)
Cai Wenji: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Zhou Jin: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Zhang Xuehai (张学海)
Zuo Xianwang: Li Danlin (李丹林); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Cao Cao: Luo Ronggui (罗荣贵); Luo Changde (罗长德)
Art consultant: Li Shiji (李世济)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Cai Wenji:

Cheng Yanqiu wrote this opera based on Liu Shang’s Hujia Shiba Paia series of songs about the life of Cai Yan.

The story:

Li Que, Guo Si and Yang Feng attempt to overthrow Emperor Xian of Han (Liu Xie). Meanwhile, King of the Southern Xiongnu state seizes the opportunity of general disorder and sends Zuo Xianwang and Bai Boshuai to invade inner Han territories. Minister Cai Yong’s daughter, Cai Yan (Wenji) flees from calamity, but Zuo Xianwang captures her. After relocating in Xiongnu land, Cai Wenji becomes Zuo’s concubine and bears him two sons.

Twelve years later, Han minister Cao Cao finds out that Cai Wenji lives in the Xiongnu state, and dispatches envoy Zhou Jin to claim her back. Cai Yan loves her husband, but as a patriot she feels compelled to go. She visits Wang Zhaojun’s tomb, another political bride, and cries bitterly. At the border of the two states, she bids farewell to her sons, and finally returns to her home country.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 春闺梦 Chun Gui Meng (Dream in a Girl’s Chamber), audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Chu Jinpeng, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Song Xiaochuan.

Often the Girl’s “Chamber” is translated as the Girl’s “Boudoir”, which is quite accurate in French, but has gained a pejorative meaning in English over the years.

Zhang Huoding has of course performed this opera herself (see top photo). I posted a full-length version here as well as a DVD excerpt here and a New Year’s Gala excerpt here.

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1946, Shanghai Tianchan Stage, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhou Changhua (周长华)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun (白登云)
Mrs. Zhang: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Wang Hui: Chu Jinpeng (储金鹏); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Servant maid: Ci Shaoquan (慈少泉); Lü Kunshan (吕昆山)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2002/01

To repeat the story:

In the 3rd Century of the late Han Dynasty, the armies of two warlords battle each other. A young woman’s newly wedded husband is taken away to join a warlord’s force and is killed in battle a short time later. Day by day, she begins dreaming of her husband returning to her. In the end, she realises he is truly gone.

There are few Beijing operas as “out there” as this one.

During the Chinese Civil War, Cheng Yanqiu was deeply touched by the fate of the homeless and destitute people. He wrote Chun Gui Meng in 1931, in the year of the Central China floods. Although for us of non-Chinese origin it’s harder to spot social criticism in ethereally beautiful Beijing Opera pieces, Wenji Returns to her Homeland, Tears on Barren Hill, or even Dream in a Girl’s Chamber are fundamentally patriotic plays, emphasising the ideas of social justice.

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu and Yu Zhenfei (俞振飞) in Chun Gui Meng:

Zhang Huoding

Opera 春闺梦 Chun Gui Meng (Dream in a Girl’s Chamber), this time with audio starring Zhao Rongchen and acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding.

Fern found this complete broadcast of the VCD performance with better picture, a video we previously just couldn’t manage to get a complete file of up until now.

The Cheng Yanqiu and Zhao Rongchen versions have a noticeable difference with Zhang Huoding’s own staging of the play: the lively servant girl huadan role is played here by a man in comic fashion as a caidan role.

The endings of the plays are also very different, with “Mrs. Zhang” standing in stony silence and ambiguously suggesting the dreams might continue in the Zhao Rongchen version, or singing an aria of love lost in the Cheng Yanqiu version, or finally in Zhang Huoding’s own productions, with the servant girl slowly leading her mistress away, supporting her, to clearly indicate Mrs. Zhang is a woman broken by the realisation that the dreams have ended.

I think Zhang Huoding made some excellent choices for her own production, and these videos have helped me gain a better understanding of what she brought in herself to the “Dream in a Girl’s Chamber”.

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1983/03/20, People’s Theatre Beijing, live sound recording
Commemorating the 25th anniversary of Cheng Yanqiu’s demise
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
erhu: Xia Kuilian (夏魁连)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun (白登云)
Mrs. Zhang: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Wang Hui: Yu Zhenfei (俞振飞) (before), Yao Yucheng (姚玉成) (after); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Mrs. Sun (caidan): Lang Shilin (郎石林); Lang Shilin (郎石林)
Li Xin (chou): Wang Yang (汪洋); Li Dongjie (李冬杰)
Mrs. Liu (laodan): Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Song Yuanbin (宋元斌)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2002/05

Photo of Zhao Rongchen as Mrs. Zhang:

(Fern adds her personal observations)

Dream in a Girl’s Chamber is a thought-provoking play. To add to what Bertrand mentioned about the differences between the three stagings: in Zhang Huoding’s version, the play ends with the maid supporting her, and we can hear a sorrowful chorus singing two lines from Chen Tao‘s poem, Journey to Longxi (陇西行):

可怜无定河边骨,犹是深(春)闺梦里人。
“Have pity on the white skeletons of the Wuding River, for they are men now only in the dreams of young women.”

Wikipedia had pity on me and provided the above translation. I found that this poem circulates in two versions on the net, with a single character difference: the expression in question can be read as “deep boudoir dream” or “joyful boudoir dream”, the latter, chun gui meng,  is exactly the title of this play.

However, neither the longer (full), nor the shorter (featured in the lip-synched production) original scripts of Cheng Yanqiu have such ending line, so I dare to say it’s a distinctive feature in Zhang Huoding’s version.

The full opera features a whole variety of characters: brave generals, a comical auntie, a noble old woman, a cowardly soldier who escapes the battlefield — different people who all behave differently in the times of distress, while the shorter version by Cheng Yanqiu focuses on the “dream” scene only.

Personally I always found this “dream” analogous to the “Awaken from a dream” (惊梦) scene of The Peony Pavilion. Du Liniang has a rendezvous with her cousin, Liu Mengmei in her dream (of course their love is forbidden in reality). When she wakes up and realizes it was only a sweet dream, she hardly can endure the pain, her servant maid has to lead her away.”

Zhang Huoding

Opera 窦娥冤 Dou E Yuan (The Injustice Done to Dou E), audio with Zhao Rongchen and acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding.
[I posted an aria from this opera performed by Zhang Huoding here].

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1962, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun (白登云)
Dou E: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Dou Tianzhang: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Mother Cai: Sun Zhenquan (孙振泉); Zhang Gang (张岗)
Cai Changzong: Yao Yugang (姚玉刚); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 1999/01

Being the very last disciple of and learning from Mr. Zhao was an exceptional honour for me, it is thanks to him that I was able to truly understand the art of the Cheng school. ” (Zhang Huoding, Follower of the Cheng School documentary)

We are very grateful to Zhao Rongchen too. After the academy rejected the fragile Huoding six times, Mr. Zhao was the only one who spotted she had Cheng school qualities. The rest is history.


Zhao Rongchen teaching the young Zhang Huoding

This opera is also known as《六月雪》Liu Yue Xue (Snowfall in June). It’s based on the original play by Guan Hanqing, whom we briefly mentioned here before. Download this pdf booklet if you would like to read Guan Hanqing’s “Snow In Midsummer” story in English.

The synopsis:

Dou Tianzhang decides to take the imperial civil service exams, so that he can marry off his daughter, Dou E to a fellow villager, Cai Changzong. Cai also leaves the village to take the exams, and the son of his housekeeper, Zhang Lü’er (Zhang “Donkey”) accompanies him on the road.

On the way, Zhang Lü’er tosses Cai Changzong into the river, hoping he can marry Dou E himself, then informs Cai’s mother that her son is dead. Mrs. Cai falls sick. Lü’er poisons Mrs. Cai’s lamb soup, but accidentally his own mother eats it and dies.

Lü’er accuses Dou E of the crime, who cannot endure the sight of her mother being interrogated violently. She decides to take the rap for the murder and confesses to the crime. The county official orders Dou E’s execution. She is to be executed in June, but the day of the execution from the sky falls December snow, an omen, and the governor realizes there has been a miscarriage of justice. Lü’er is taken away in chains, and Dou E is rehabilitated.

Moreover, it turns out that Cai Changzong wasn’t drowned: now a high official, he returns and the family is reunited.

Zhang Huoding

坐宫别宫 Zuo Gong · Bie Gong (Sitting in the Palace – Leaving the Palace) from 四郎探母 Silang Tan Mu (Silang Visits his Mother), audio with Zhao Rongchen and acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding.

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1984, stage recording without audience
string section lead: Huang Jinliu (黄金陆)
percussion section lead: Ni Yibin (倪义斌)
Princess Tiejing: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Yang Yanhui: Ye Peng (叶蓬); Ye Peng (叶蓬)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2003/01

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Princess Tiejing (sadly we couldn’t find a photo of Zhao Rongchen in the same role):

Loosely relevant but interesting information that Cheng Yanqiu is of Manchu origin himself. His birth name was Cheng Lin (承麟), but after moving to Beijing, he changed the character of his family name to Cheng (程), which is a Han name.

Sitting in the Palace was featured so many times so far that it really doesn’t need any introduction. In this production, Ye Peng is lip-syncing himself. He comes from a family of jingju artists and is the direct disciple of school-founder Yang Baosen (杨宝森). It’s very easy to like Yang style, a good choice when you start to listen to Beijing Opera. (At least Fern thinks so because it worked for her.)

Zhang Huoding

Opera 柳迎春 (Liu Yingchun) audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Yu Shiwen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Zhao Shipu.

Click here to download video part 1

Click here to download video part 2

Click here to download video part 3

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Zhang Laiyou (张来有)
Liu Yingchun: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Xue Rengui: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Zhao Shipu (赵世璞)
Mrs. Feng (caidan): Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Liu Run: Su Shenggui (苏盛贵); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Nanny (laodan): Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Zhang Gang (张岗)
Mrs. Liu (laodan): Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Ye Ping (叶萍)
Yingchun’s sister-in-law (huadan): Li Danlin (李丹林); Li Haiqing (李海青)
Art consultant: Wang Yinqiu (王吟秋)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2000/04

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Liu Yingchun:

There seems to be a Chinese language movie based on this story translated as “The Gardener and a Lady” from 1941 based on this story.

Story can be found in Chinese (Google translate not up to task here) at http://www.zhongguoxijuchang.com/xijumingju/xjmj1020406liuyingchun.htm

We had never heard of this opera, we don’t know why it is so rare.

This opera was written by Cheng Yanqiu, based on another play,《汾河湾》Fen He Wan (Fen River Bay) and the old narrative story of famous Tang general Xue Rengui and his wife, Liu Yingchun.

The story:

Before his military achievements, Xue Rengui was working in the home of Liu Run. One day when he was standing in the rain outside, the daughter of his employer, Liu Yingchun, took pity on him and gave him her red coat.
Seeing the coat, Liu Run believes that Xue and his daughter have had an affair and expels Rengui from his house and forces Yingchun to commit suicide. Mrs. Liu secretly orders her daughter to escape, and with the help of Yingchun’s nanny, in the miserable hut of Rengui the two outcasts get married.

Later, Rengui joins the army and builds his career. After 18 years, he meets a young man who shoots two wild ducks with one arrow. It turns out that the boy is his own son, and finally the family has a reunion.

Wikipedia about the real Xue Rengui:

Xue Rengui was born in 614, during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui, but his early activities were not recorded, other than that his wife had the surname Liu (柳). It was said that he was poor and was a farmer. Around the time that Tang Dynasty’s second emperor Emperor Taizong was set to launch a major campaign against Goguryeo in 644, Xue was planning to rebury his ancestors, when Lady Liu told him:
“You have abilities higher than most people, and you need to know when to use them. Now, the Son of Heaven is ready to attack Liaodong and he is seeking for fierce warriors. These times do not come often. Is it not the case that you want to have achievements to show yourself? Once you received great honors, it will not be too late to rebury your ancestors.

Fern’s main source: liyuan.xikao.com, a superb collection of archive sound recordings, with cast lists, info and short play synopses.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 荒山泪 Huang Shan Lei (Tears On Barren Mountain)  audio with Cheng Yanqiu, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding

(“Barren Mountain” and “Barren Hill” are both used)

We posted a full length version of this opera sung by Zhang Huoding here, and we later compared it to another full-length version of the same opera sung by Guo Wei here. This is an opera Zhang Huoding has frequently performed herself, in a way purists of the form have appreciated a great deal. It is the most tragic play in her repertoire, and for that reason in not mentioned as often as the more feel-good White Snake or Unicorn Purse.

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, People’s Grand Stage Shanghai, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Zhang Laiyou (张来有)
Zhang Huizhu: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Bao Shide: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Wang Sixiang: Li Shaoguang (李少广); Li Shaoguang (李少广)
Cui Defu: Xiao Yulou (筱玉楼); Lang Shilin (郎石林)
Hu Tailai: Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Gao Liangmin: Su Shenggui (苏盛贵); Song Yuanbin (宋元斌)
Mrs. Chen: Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Gao Zhong: Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Li Yuanzhen (李元真)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2000/09

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Zhang Huizhu:

Repeating Fern’s superb synopsis from last year:

The story is set during the reign of the last Ming emperor, the muddle-headed Chongzen, born Zhu Youjian.

It’s a tragic story of a family of five members: the poor farmer Gao Liangmin, his wife Mrs. Chen, his son Gao Zhong, his daughter-in-law Zhang Huizhu and his grandson Bao Lian.

The emperor is continuously levying higher taxes, further deepening the suffering of the people. Furthermore, there is a severe drought in Henan that has lasted for months and farmers can’t harvest any crops. This year famine will strike. On top of everything else, the Minister of War Yang Sichang is ordered by the emperor to put down the peasant rebellion led by Li Zhicheng; this results in more taxes and forced military service. More and more desperate people join the uprising, and the Ming empire will soon collapse.

Zhang Huizhu is weaving silk fabric day and night and Bao Lian is selling it at the market, to be able to pay the taxes.

One day, Gao Liangmin and his son are going to the forest to collect herbs. They are warned by Gao Liangmin’s good friend, Bao Shide, that the hills are extremely dangerous, because there are man-eating tigers on the loose which have already killed a woodcutter and a traveler. But Gao Liangmin is more afraid of the government than the tiger, so they go nevertheless.

Two tax collectors (Wang Sixiang and Cui Defu) come to the Gao house, and though Mrs. Chen says they already paid the tax before, they demand more. Zhang Huizhu tells them that they can pay as soon as Bao Lian comes back from the market, so the duo is waiting until he arrives. The tax collectors take away 5000 coins, half of the amount brought in. Mrs. Chen is upset, but Bao Lian tries to comfort them that when his father and grandfather come back from the mountains, they can get a good price for the herbs on the market.

It’s late at night, Bao Lian is waiting for his dad and grandpa to return. He falls asleep after a while, his mother comes and affectionately covering him. Zhang Huizhu is still weaving at the night, but continuously makes mistakes. She worries that it’s a bad omen, and something has happened to her husband and father-in-law. Why are they staying away so long, what could happen to them? Are they lost in the forest?

Next morning Bao Shide comes with devastating news: both Gao Liangmin and his son were killed by the man-eating tiger. Hearing the news, Mrs. Chen coughs blood and collapses. Bao Shide runs for a doctor.

The two tax collectors return again, and this time they take 3000 coins, no matter how Zhang Huizhu begs them not to. What’s more, Minister of War Yang Sichang arrives as well, forcefully taking away Bao Lian for obligatory military service despite his young age and family conditions. Mrs. Chen, hearing chaotic voices outside, gets up from the bed and tries to stumble to the door, but she falls to the ground and dies. Zhang Huizhu, who has lost all of her family members by now, doesn’t even have enough money to bury the old lady.

But there’s no end to the disaster. Though the people are already extremely desperate, the imperial court want to implement exorbitant taxation. Even Wang Sixiang and Cui Defu say that it’s not possible, so the county magistrate punishes them, both getting 20 strokes of the whip. In the end the two tax collectors return to Zhang Huizhu again, claiming 4000 coins from her. She has only 1000 left. The tax collectors allow her some time to find more money and go elsewhere first. As soon as they exit, Zhang Huizhu takes a knife and escapes to the Wangwu mountains, which once were like paradise but now are desolate.

Bao Shide follows Zhang Huizhu to the mountains, trying to hold her back, warning her about the tigers. Zhang Huizhu says she’s not afraid of the tigers, that if they eat her, it will be a blessing.

The two tax collectors catch up with her on the mountain pass, where they have pursued her.

When they see she’s holding a dagger, they say they were just ordered on, it’s nothing personal. Zhang Huizhu fiercely tells her opinion about the whole social situation the country is in, that people are poor, desperate, houses are empty, and that nobody cares about the common people…

As a final protest against tyranny she commits suicide, slicing her own throat with the dagger.

play poster

Zhang Huoding

Opera 荒山泪 Huang Shan Lei (Tears On Barren Mountain) audio with Zhao Rongchen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding

The same opera with a different audio track and a different performance.

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Fern and I discussed the presence of the performer in the tiger costume in this other post comparing the staging between Zhang Huoding’s and Guo Wei’s own productions of this opera. Both Fern and I dislike Beijing opera performers in silly animal costumes, we find it both a bit ridiculous and demeaning to the highly trained jingju artist who has to don the costume. I think Zhang Huoding must sort of feel the same way: in this video which predates her own performances we have both tiger and Zhang Huoding. In her own production later, the tiger is gone.

Guo Wei’s production, on the other hand, respected the original staging.

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1979, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Li Zhenshan (栗振珊)
Zhang Huizhu: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Bao Shide: Huang Shixiang (黄世骧); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧);
Wang Sixiang: Guo Yunhe (郭韵和); Li Shaoguang (李少广)
Cui Defu: Zhao Yueming (赵月明); Lü Kunshan (吕昆山)
Hu Tailai: Sheng Shixian (绳世先); Ma Zengshou (马增寿)
Gao Liangmin: — ; Wang Zhilian (王志廉)
Mrs. Chen: Geng Shihua (耿世华); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Gao Zhong: — ; Li Yuanzhen (李元真)
Filmed in: The Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre, Beijing, 1998/06

Photo of Zhao Rongchen as Zhang Huizhu:

Zhang Huoding

Opera 锁麟囊 Suo Lin Nang (Unicorn Purse)  audio with Cheng Yanqiu, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding

This video was posted a while ago and relocated here.

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Zhang Laiyou (张来有)
Xue Xiangling: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Zhao Shouzhen: Li Danlin (李丹林); Li Haiqing (李海青)
Xue Liang: Yu Shiwen (于世文);  Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Biyu: Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Granny Hu: Li Shaoguang (李少广); Li Shaoguang (李少广)
Meixiang: Wang Yuanzhi (王元芝); Jin Jianping (金建萍)
Mrs. Xue: Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Zhang Gang (张岗)
Zhao Luhan: Su Shenggui (苏盛贵); Li Yuanzhen (李元真)
Zhou Tingxun: Chen Xiaochun (陈孝椿); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Lu Shengshou: Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Xu Shangbin (徐尚宾)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2000/01

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Xue Xiangling:

This play is very popular today, all of today’s actresses of the Cheng school have performed it. Shi Yihong, not of the Cheng school, performed it as well recently. Surprisingly, it is a recent play, written during World War 2 at Cheng Yanqiu’s request.

I have to get a little personal here. Certainly one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me was Fern out of the blue translating this opera scene by scene into English, an opera which totally fascinates me to this day and was *the one* that got me seriously interested in Jingju.  It’s hard for me to express how much I consider Zhang Huoding performing this play among mankind’s greatest artistic achievements. The French have a saying, “C’est mon grand frisson”, roughly meaning this is it, the one that has given me the greatest and most undefinable thrills of pleasure.

I posted two full versions of her starring in the Unicorn purse  here and this one which is among our top picks and which features Fern’s scene by scene. I also own the two-disc DVD of this. The 2004 “top pick” performance is in my opinion untoppable by anyone.

The story in brief:

A spoiled and rich bride sets out to marry in a luxurious bridal chariot. On the way she hears another bride-to-be weeping in her own run-down transportation, because she is ashamed of being so poor and ridiculous on her wedding day. The rich girl in an unexplained moment of generosity anonymously gives the poor girl her own lucky unicorn purse containing a large dowry. They each go their separate way. Years later, the floods come and the rich girl loses everything, her husband and child as well. Destitute, she is picked up unknowingly by the family she helped with the unicorn purse, now wealthy and well-to-do. She helps watch after their child which reminds her bitterly of her own lost child and her past follies.

The play ends happily as the unicorn purse is matched with its former owner, and generosity is rewarded as the former rich girl is miraculously reunited with her own family.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 锁麟囊 Suo Lin Nang (Unicorn Purse) audio with Zhao Rongchen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding

Another version of this opera.

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Click here to download part 3

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1962, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun(白登云)
Xue Xiangling: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Zhao Shouzhen: Zhang Manjun (张曼君); Li Haiqing (李海青)
Xue Liang: Yu Shiwen (于世文);  Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Biyu: Jia Songling (贾松龄); Ma Zengshou (马增寿)
Granny Hu: Luo Xiaokui (罗小奎); Li Shaoguang (李少广)
Meixiang: Li Shengfang (李盛芳);  Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Mrs. Xue: Sun Zhenquan (孙振泉); Sun Zhenquan (孙振泉)
Zhao Luhan: Su Shenggui (苏盛贵); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Zhou Tingxun: Yao Yugang (姚玉刚); Zhang Zhibin (仉志斌)
Lu Shengshou: Wang Zhilian (王志廉); Xu Shangbin (徐尚宾)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 1998/08

Photo of Zhao Rongchen as Xue Xiangling:

Zhang Huoding

Opera 碧玉簪 Biyu Zan (The Green Jade Hairpin)

There seems to be more than one “Jade Hairpin” opera, with different stories. The original “The Jade Hairpin” [玉簪记 Yu Zan Ji (The Jade Hairpin)] was originally written by Ming dynasty playwright Gao Lian (1527-1609), but this is not that story. I got it wrong too, and Fern busted me! But that’s alright, because this story is spicier!

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun(白登云)
Zhang Yuzhen: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Xiaohui: Xiao Cuihua (筱翠花); Liu Shuyun (刘淑云)
Zhao Qixian: Li Danlin (李丹林); Yu Wanzheng (于万增)
Zhang Ruihua: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Liu Shaozhuang: Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Matchmaker Gu: Jia Duocai (贾多才); Kou Chunhua (寇春华)
Mrs. Zhao (Qixian’s mom): Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Zhang Gang (张岗)
Mrs. Zhang (Yuzhen’s mom): —; Li Haiqing (李海青)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 1999/04

Our Jade Hairpin story goes like this:

The Minister of Rites Zhang Ruihua, has a daughter, Zhang Yuzhen, is now engaged to the talented scholar, Zhao Qixian. Yuzhen’s cousin, Liu Shaozhuang, had previously proposed marriage to her as well, but had been rejected by Yuzhen. The vengeful Liu bribes the matchmaker and gets hold of Yuzhen’s jade hairpin. He fabricates a fake love letter and hides the envelope in the inner bridal chamber.

On their wedding night, Zhao Qixian finds the envelope, questions Yuzhen’s chastity and leaves furious. The sorrowful Yuzhen falls ill. Her maid, Xiaohui, informs Qixian’s mother about what happened. Zhang Ruihua also returns home, and they go to the Zhao residence to investigate the case.

They interrogate the matchmaker too, who finally confesses and the truth gets revealed. The pathetic Liu Shaozhuang is so afraid of being arrested that he collapses and dies.

Zhao Qixian falls to his knees and begs for apology. Finally Yuzhen takes her wedding clothes back, and man and wife are reconciled.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 火焰驹 Huo Yan Ju (Fire Steed or Precious Horse ) audio with Zhao Rongchen and Wang Yinqiu, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Lü Yang

This file is last minute addition, once again found by Fern. I’d never even heard of this opera before!

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1960, stage recording without audience
Huang Guiying: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Mo Lan: Wang Yinqiu (王吟秋); Lü Yang (吕洋)
Li Yangui: Yao Yugang (姚玉刚); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Huang Zhang: Luo Ronggui (罗荣贵); Luo Changde (罗长德)
Ai Qian (wusheng): Li Yuanchun (李元春); Li Yuanzhen (李元真)
Li’s mother: Jia Songling (贾松龄); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Mrs. Zhou: Zhang Manjun (张曼君); Zhao Naihua (赵乃华)
Li Yanrong: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2005/02

For the interest of Cheng school fans, the annoying horizontal scrolling text appearing from time to time throughout the video provides additional information about this opera. It mentions that after Cheng Yanqiu passed away in 1958, Zhao Rongchen and Wang Yinqiu were in charge of new Cheng school plays. Besides Huo Yan Ju, Zhao Rongchen performed several other new operas, for example《苗青娘》Miao Qingniang,《李师师》Li Shishi,《婉娘与紫燕》Wan Niang and Zi Yan…

It seems that nowadays no-one shows interest in learning these newly written theater pieces, are they doomed to extinction, just like some of the “first generation” Cheng school plays?
As a little bonus, click here to download a very nice 9 mins long clip with an excerpt from Miao Qingniang, performed by Jiang Zhi (江汁), a Cheng school actress from Jiangsu.

Here is the story:

Set in the Song dynasty, Court councilor Li Shou’s son, Li Yangui, and Huang Zhang’s daughter Huang Guiying are engaged to be married since childhood. Greedy for power and in order to obtain the precious horse Huoyanju, Huang Zhang falsely accuses Li Shou who is sent to prison.

Li Shou’s other older son is ordered to the frontier, so the younger Li Yangui remains behind alone and destitute. Huang Zhang then tries to break up the engagement, but Guiying disobeys and cannot forget her sweetheart. Her servant girl, Mo Lan, arranges a meeting between her with Li Yangui. They meet in the garden, and Guiying gives him silver to help him, and admits about her inner feelings for him.

But tragedy strikes again. Li Yangui is sent to prison on false charges and sentenced to death. Guiying goes to the execution ground in the rain to offer sacrifice, she meets Li’s mother and his older brother’s wife (Mrs. Zhou) on the way. When Li’s mother learns Guiying is the daughter of Huang, she wants to beat her, but when she realizes Guiying really loves her son, they go together to the execution ground.

At the same time, the precious horse, Huoyanju runs to the border station and Li’s older brother, Li Yanrong returns from the frontier. Huang’s evil deeds get revealed and things turn out well in the nick of time!

 

 

In conclusion, although looking at this treasure vault of material was quite exhilarating, and I am sure I will come back to view it often in the future, I am a bit sad. We’ve finally rounded up the very last few full-length videos my favourite singer has performed in. There might not be more to come. Let’s pause to think about that and bow our heads. (It’s not pretty to see a grown man cry).

I’m personally hoping Zhang Huoding will finally turn to HD video production and make the world a much better place  to live in. That is my daydream and I will cling to it.

In the meanwhile, enjoy!

(And thank you Fern, you were stupendous!)

Zhang Huoding in a dress

Hurray! (Did I ever mention I was a compulsive completist?)

Thanks once again to the great fans at Zhang Huoding’s official web site, here is the same opera as this one, only with far better picture and sound.

It’s a big one, ain’t kidding around. File size is 1.4 GB, file format is MP4 which you can view in VLC, among others.

Click here to download

And enjoy!

(originally published on: Jul 23, 2011)(Updated 2013-04-23 to fix broken links)

Shi Yihong

Hello,

The tropical heat and humidity has followed us all the way home to Quebec City from our vacation in Florida, a rare occurrence, and I find myself writing this post melting in my seat. Tomorrow we are set for rain, and the temperature should drop back down about 10 degrees. Hopefully!

Before leaving on vacation, I found this nice two hour long video while doing hard drive backups with performances from all the top names in Beijing Opera. Fern, who has a terrific blog herself, identified all the artists and songs. It’s great to have Fern helping me out.

You can download the video here. The file format is .RMVB and can be viewed using VLC. File size is 693 MB.

So here is Fern’s cast and song list in italics, with myself adding some odd notes here and there in (regular font):

Zhang Huoding

Zhang Huoding – Jiang Jie (Sister Jiang) (2003)

(There is a video of the complete “Sister Jiang” opera starring Zhang Huoding here).

Shi Yihong

Shi Min (she’s Shi Yihong but here she comes with her former name) – Bawang Bie Ji (Farewell My Concubine) sword dance (2003)

(Shi Yihong is one of the main stars in the spectacular HD opera in three parts “Female Warriors of the Yang Family”.

I found this performance outstanding! Shi Yihong is so convincing in the handling of her swords. Looks so effortless even though there is a lifetime of training involved!

Unless you can read Chinese and know this artist changed her name, there is no way to identify her in the Farewell My Concubine make-up. Bravo Fern!

Also of note here: the nice rolling deep drum.)

Yan Xingpeng

Yan Xingpeng – Liuchu Qishan (Six campaigns from Mount Qi) (1999)
Wikipedia: Zhuge Liang’s Northern Expeditions – In popular history, they overlap with the “six campaigns from Mount Qi” which is inaccurate, since Zhuge Liang only launched his campaigns from Mount Qi twice. Seems Yan Xingpeng is frequently playing Zhuge Liang, 18th here:

http://operabeijing.com/?p=584

(Aha! The TV microphone hidden under the beard is betrayed by a loud plosive.)

Ye Shaolan and Shang Changrong

Ye Shaolan, Shang Changrong – Fei Hu Shan (Flying Tiger Hill) (1999)
You can read the story here.
These two individuals are so good together.

(People not familiar with Beijing Opera should probably not start here, Ye Shaolan’s singing will sound very special to western ears. Question to Fern: is Shang Changrong playing the tiger?)

(update) Fern responded by finding this screen shot of the actual “tiger” in the opera:

tiger

Sun Yumin
Sun Yumin – The Tale of Huo Xiaoyu (1999)
Sun Yumin is direct disciple of Xun Huisheng, one of the “4 great dan actor”.
Reference: fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huo_Xiaoyu_zhuan

(The story: poet Li Yi 李益 (748 – 829) abandons his lover, the prostitute Huo Xiaoyu, in favour of an honourable marriage. Still madly in love with him, she is unable to greet her clients and falls into misery. She dies in despair in front of him during a banquet. Her ghost then haunts the young man, bringing the curse of jealousy on him. Li Yi’s wife, who comes from a good family, divorces him. His manic jealousy drives him insane and he marries repeatedly, in vain.

This excerpt has a couple of microphone glitches, I’m surprised it was kept by the producers.

Also of note: red is the color of marriage. Notice the intense performance. It’s madness, I tell you!)

Du Zhenjie

Du Zhenjie – Huaihe Ying (Camp at Huai River) (1999)

Sun Wei

Sun Wei (Shanghai Chinese Opera Academy) – Sanjia Dian (Sanjia Inn) (2001)

Xu Ying

Xu Ying (National Chinese Opera Academy) Wenzhao Guan (The Zhao Pass) (2001)

Wan Lin

Wan Lin (Tianjin Chinese Opera Academy) – Silang Tan Mu (Silang Visits his Mother) (2001)

Wang Zi

Wang Zi (Beijing Chinese Opera Academy) – Dingjun Shan (Dingjun Mountain)
(2001)

Yuan Huiqin

Yuan Huiqin – Yangmen Nü Jiang (Female Generals of the Yang Family) (2001)

Zhang Huoding

Zhang Huoding, Song Xiaochuan – Chun Gui Meng (Dream in a Girl’s Chamber)
(2001)

(I keep repeating, Zhang Huoding is my favorite Beijing opera performer bar none, the video of this complete opera is here and one of our top picks is another breathtaking excerpt from this opera. I’m such a fan this excerpt alone is excuse enough to post the whole video, although I really have to admit this is not a particularly memorable clip).

Diao Li and Yu Kuizhi

Diao Li, Yu Kuizhi – Zuo Gong (Sitting in the Palace) (2001)
You can buy a CD of Diao Li here.

(I was fooled for a moment, I thought it was Li Shengsu, right up to the point where her voice cracks noticeably. And no, it wasn’t the microphone. I am shamed.

Yu is Yu. Simply the best at what he does.)

Tan Yuanshou, Tan Xiaoceng, Tan Zhengyan

Tan Yuanshou, Tan Xiaoceng, Tan Zhengyan – Dingjun Shan (Dingjun Mountain)
(2001)
Tan Fuying’s descendants.

(Nice Chinese mandolin. Trio singing together is definitely not Verdi.)

Marriage material Li Haiyan

Li Shiji, Li Haiyan, Liu Guijuan – Suo Lin Nang (The Unicorn Purse) (2001)

(The reference “top pick” video of the complete Unicorn Purse starring Zhang Huoding is here.

This is a typical “three different generations of singers” setup. I like Li Haiyan here — I’m so predictable, sigh. )

Li Haiyan

Li Haiyan, Liu Guijuan – Concubine Meifei (2001)
The Emperor drops Guifei for Meifei on that notorious night in Drunken Concubine.

(Li Haiyan sings here briefly with her characteristic deep rich voice and exquisite control).

judge and old woman

Zhao Baoxiu, Meng Guanglu – Chisang Zhen (Red Mulberry Village) (2001)
Hahaha, we just watched the exact same excerpt a few days ago with my man. He asked, “Why is the old woman beating the judge?” Bao Zheng is the first Beijing opera character he recognizes. Tremendous achievement!

(Tricked again, it took me a second look to make sure that wasn’t Yuan Huiqin. Let’s just blame it on the heat and leave it at that.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on Bao Zheng here; in Chinese fiction, Bao Zheng has become a sort of historical crime detective character).

Li Jie

Li Jie – Tiannü San Hua (Heavenly Goddess Scattering Flowers) (2002)

(It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

I checked Fern’s blog and didn’t find anything on this singer. She hits some nice high notes here.)

jinghu solo

Zhao Jianhua – Chenlian (Morning excercise) (jinghu solo)

(The jinghu solo segues into an acrobatics segment performed by children.)

Mu Yu

Mu Yu (Beijing Chinese Opera Academy, laosheng, 13 yrs) – Huaihe Ying (Camp at Huai River) (2002)
I really liked this boy. His appearance so fits this role. (Edit: Meanwhile the grown up Mu Yu became one of my favorites.)

Lü Yisha

Lü Yisha (Beijing Chinese Opera Academy, female hualian, 11 yrs) – Suo Wu Long (Meeting Death with Ease) (2002)
Wow. A little girl.

Yu Yang

Yu Yang (Beijing Chinese Opera Academy, laosheng, 11 yrs) – Silang Visits His Mother (2002)

Wang Yu

Wang Yu (Beijing Chinese Opera Academy, laosheng, 10 yrs) – Dingjun Shan (Dingjun Mountain) (2002)

Wang Wenduan

Wang Wenduan (Beijing Chinese Opera Academy, female laosheng, 9 yrs) - Yuanmen Zhan Zi (Beheading the Son At the Camp’s Gate) (2002)

Shi Yihong

Shi Min (Shi Yihong) – Xi Shi (2002)

(Perfect time to sip a cup of jasmine tea.)

Zhang Huoding

Zhang Huoding – Da Deng Dian (The Great Enthronement) (2002)

(Collector instinct kicking in. “Must… find… a…video…of…this…complete…opera.” Zhang Huoding in an uncharacteristic role, her voice not in absolutely top form. Still, certainly one of the finest opera singers alive on the planet today.)

Yu Kuizhi

Yu Kuizhi – Zhuo Fang Cao (Capturing and Releasing Cao Cao) (2002)

(This costume looks like a cheap polyester costume shop deal. Why no embroidery? Yu does it honor in any case, he is terrific in the intro, garnering hand claps. He really shines at this kind of slower tempo aria, one can appreciate the reedy quality of his voice… The mind wanders and the body relaxes. Wonderful.)

Dong Yuanyuan

Dong Yuanyuan – Shang Wei (Mu Guiying Guashuai or “Mu Guiying Takes Command)
(2004)
Dong Yuanyuan is my favourite Mei school actress.

(Fern is up on me, I don’t know this singer very well.)

Li Jun

Li Jun – Sha Qiao Jianbie (Farewell Dinner at Sandy Bridge) (2004)

(Li Jun has failed to hook me in so far. His red cape is hiding the nice embroidery on his costume.)

Deng Muwei

Deng Muwei – Yao Qi (2004)

Song Xiaochuan and Diao Li

Diao Li, Song Xiaochuan – Feng Huan Chao (Return of the Phoenix to the Nest) (2004)
Young Xiaochuan (left), gained some weight since then, hehe:
young Song Xiaochuan

(Song is actually lean and mean in this clip, he’s plumper these days. As they say in Hungarian, “Trr-rrragédia”. )

Geng Qichang

Geng Qichang – Er Tang She Zi (Sacrificing the Second Son) (2004)
Yang, Yu school laosheng, Li Weikang’s husband. One of the most appreciated figures of contemporary Bejing Opera.

That’s all, folks.

Enjoy!

(originally published on: Jun 25, 2011)(Updated 2013-04-23 to fix broken links)

Zhang Huoding

You’ve heard of Celine Dion not talking for two days before a performance to rest her voice? Here’s Zhang Huoding doing her one better: resting her voice during a performance!

A while ago, Fern at megapoxy.net posted a video of Zhang Huoding and her troupe lip-syncing to a 1956 recording by Cheng Yanqiu, Xiao Cuihua, Li Danlin and others, ostensibly to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the master’s death. Cheng Yanqiu is one of the most important historical performers of Beijing Opera of the 20th century, and his personal style has become a “school” in China, of which Zhang Huoding is part of.

The problem of course is that little audio-visual documents remain of full operas by the master, so the idea here was to provide such a document as well as a tribute at the same time by a foremost Beijing Opera artist. It’s a novel idea, sort of like asking Renée Fleming to lip-synch Nellie Melba.

After that posting, Fern told me there were several of these re-enactments floating around the net. Here is another one, rediscovered in my files during a long rainy weekend of file backups, with Zhang Huoding lip synching over the opera “The Unicorn Purse” sung by Cheng Yanqiu. This is particularly interesting because Zhang Huoding has made that play her own. Newer Beijing Opera performers now imitate Zhang Huoding singing the Unicorn Purse! It is therefore interesting to listen and compare the past master with the new.

WARNING! The sound of this video is “voluntarily” bad during the performance, likely from a magnetic tape recording dating to the 1940s or 1950s. The sound of the video itself is quite good, as you can tell from the introduction and a segment around an hour or so where the tape runs out — likely missing — and the actors actually keep going themselves before the second reel begins.

All in all, a fascinating if not necessarily essential document.

Click here to download the video. File format is .RMVB and can be viewed using VLC. File size is 625 MB.

Enjoy!

(originally published on: Jun 12, 2011)(Updated 2013-04-23 to fix broken links)

I had a cathartic moment listening to Zhang Huoding a few years ago, which totally turned me on to Beijing Opera. I was already interested in the genre, but hadn’t really latched on to any performers. Then I saw a video of an aria from the Unicorn Purse and I was hooked.

I started to surf the web to find out more about this performer.

Initially, turning up anything was hard because of Chinese characters and my zero-level Mandarin. But eventually, I started stumbling on nice videos. Among the very first videos I downloaded were clips from the cinematic version of the “White Snake” with Zhang Huoding.

It is a quality filmed version of the play, with nice camera work and pleasing colors. It captures my favorite opera singer in great close-up singing a traditional role she has basically made her own.

About a year later, my friend Zach managed to purchase a copy of the DVD for me  in China (may fortune fall on your shoulders, Zach). This DVD now seems hard to find, no doubt because it is popular.

Zhang Huoding's "White Snake" DVD, a prized possession

It’s a glorious production.

Today I want to present a small clip from it, the pantomimed boat ride where the white snake, transformed into a beautiful woman, falls in love with a human. It’s lovely on many levels, the group imitating a rocking boat, the servant becoming the matchmaker, the singing.

There is a lot of wisdom in the symbolism of these two falling in love and getting married. People change over time, and when you get married you can’t really tell what the future holds. Certainly when my wife married me 21 years ago this week, heaven help her she had no idea what she was getting into.

Zhang and Song rock the boat

Click here to download the clip. File size is 112 MB and the video format is mp4, which can be played with VLC.

Enjoy!

(originally published on: May 29, 2011)

These gorgeous photos were borrowed from the blog at: http://www.zhanglixian.net/blogs/pigu6/

Zhang Huoding Zhang Huoding Zhang Huoding Zhang Huoding This movie poster was found at http://yule.sohu.com/20080728/n258432323.shtml Zhang Huoding as the White Snake

This action pose is from http://epaper.jinghua.cn/html/2009-01/10/content_382762.htm Zhang Huoding

This one from http://www.ksnews.cn/a/yl/2009/1210/32218.html Zhang Huoding

This one from http://yule.sohu.com/20061030/n246091301.shtml Zhang Huoding

(originally published on: Jan 30, 2011)

Zhang Huoding in the Unicorn Purse

Here is the complete 2 1/2 hour opera, “Suo Lin Nang” or “The Legend of the Unicorn Purse” starring Zhang Huoding, my favorite singer.

I have several versions on video of this opera featuring the same cast, even the official 2 DVD set available for purchase online here.

Indeed, it seems Madame Huoding’s troupe has performed this classic countless times, and all over China. In the DVD version I own, the lighting is harsh and makes all the actors look tired and drawn — it might not be just an impression, that video might have been shot at the end of a gruelling tour. In that video, Zhang Huoding’s voice sounds a bit weak and strained at times.

Not in the video I am presenting you today! This performance is from a 2004 television production (I misnamed the file names to 2005 but that’s a typo), and the download comes thanks to a fan who uploaded the link to her web site’s official bulletin board, which you have to register and log in to view.

The video comes in two parts. The most famous aria of this opera, Zhang Huoding’s best-known signature song, comes at 37 minutes into Part One. She sings it effortlessly, the sound is great, and the video camera is generous with her. She looks relaxed, making it all look easy as a summer breeze.

42 minutes in, another famous aria, and her voice rings loud and clear. She is clearly in exceptional form! Her trill at 46 minutes is something I have not seen her do before, impressive.

In Part Two, during the sad aria ten minutes in, I admit I had goose bumps twice.

Suo Lin Nang was written by Weng Ouhong in 1940 at the request of Cheng Yanqiu, one of the Four Great Dan masters.  The opera was premiered in May of the same year at the Shanghai Golden Theatre and was an instant sensation. With its moving plot, excellent lines as well as its graceful and lyrical music, it has remained one of the most popular operas of the Cheng repertoire. (ref)

The file format is .RMVB and can be viewed using VLC.

Click here to download Part One of the video

File size of Part 1 is 360 MB.

Click here to download Part Two of the video

File size of Part 2 is 260 MB.

The general story for this opera can be found here, on this blog’s very first post.

(Update April 2011)

I’m really excited about this.

Here is a complete and detailed plot description of this opera by Fern from megapoxy.net who has a great blog on Beijing opera herself. Great, great thanks Fern!

Suo Lin Nang

“The Unicorn Purse” starring Zhang Huoding

Enters Xue Liang, the housekeeper taking care of the young miss’ dowry to help the old madam. He’s heading to the embroidery workshop, but old Mother Hu calls after him to wait. She asks what’s in his hand. He replies it’s a unicorn purse, but he doesn’t know whether the miss will like it or not. They decide to call the maid, Meixiang, to ask her about it.

Meixiang comes in and declares about how important it is to be ready with the dowry in two days time in order to please the little miss. The housekeeper and Mother Hu assure her they are ready.

Meixiang asks them who is in charge of the shoes. Xue Sheng answers he is. He hands the shoes to Meixiang who takes them to the miss. Soon she returns, saying the miss didn’t like the shoes, hurrying Xue Sheng to replace them quickly. Xue Sheng says he’s exchanged them several times, Meixiang tells him not to be so pesky.

Xue Xiangling calls Meixiang and bombards her with orders: she wants the pattern of mandarin ducks, there should be one flying, one swimming, they should be neither too small nor too big, have multi-coloured feathers etc. The embroidered shoes must be comfy for the feet. Plus she wants a red lotus flower design too, the center of the lotus should be golden, the petals cinnabar colored…

Meixiang complains to the miss that she can’t remember so many things, it would be better if she could come to the lobby to give instructions to everyone. The young miss scolds that she’s a useless servant, then orders her to come and help her to come out. Meixiang says to herself, ‘She’s not 70 years old, yet she needs a servant to support her by the arm, oh my!’, then goes and helps the miss to come.

Xue Xiangling (with the manners of a rich girl) sings that so as the running water at spring time runs low, so goes her mood lower and lower, because Zhu the tailor can’t make a dress according to her wishes. The pattern of the dress is poor and doesn’t go well with her mandarin duck shoes.

Meixiang tells her miss to calm herself, there are many servants and she can send one of them to exchange the dress. Yet the miss repeats that she’s very angry. Meixiang tries to comfort her, suggesting to go see Zhu the tailor to select a pattern she would like better. Meixiang tells Xue Sheng the servant to hurry to the tailor.

Wang Qing comes with the handkerchief. Meixiang tells him she’ll show it to the miss. She’s asks the miss whether she likes the handkerchief, but she throws it away. Meixiang is a bit upset, saying the handkerchief is so pretty, why did she throw it away? Xue Xiangling is calling Meixiang a stupid girl and says she won’t use such a plain white handkerchief on such an auspicious day. Meixiang admits she’s silly and tells the miss not to worry, she’ll replace the handkerchief. She’s calls for Wang Qing and orders him to replace the handkerchief because the miss isn’t satisfied with it.
Wang Qing says he already replaced it several times and asking what did the miss say exactly. Meixiang quotes the miss, saying she’s a stupid girl, etc., and repeatedly telling him to hurry up.

Hu Po is coming, asking where the miss is, she wants to report to her. Meixiang leading her to the miss. Mother Hu tells the Miss, “I have arranged the flower vase for you again, the flowers are nice, the leaves are nice, even it’s name is auspicious, it’s called ‘riches and honour until old age’, take a look, is it good?” Xue Xiangling seems to like the flowers, so Mother Hu puts them down and says if there’s nothing more she may leave. Meixiang tells her she’s very lucky, Hu Po replies, “Merciful Buddha, (it’s not easy to endure the miss)!”, then she leaves.

Xue Liang comes, looking for Meixiang. She asks him what’s that he’s holding, he says it’s a unicorn purse. Meixiang doesn’t know what’s a unicorn, she tells it doesn’t look like a pig, nor like a dog. Xue Sheng enlightens her that the Chinese unicorn is an auspicious new pattern. “Oh I see, a new pattern! I’ll show it to the miss.”

Meixiang asks the miss to take a look again at the flower vase and the unicorn purse. Xue Xiangling starts to sing about the unicorn purse, that there are floating rosy clouds on it, and why does the unicorn have two horns, it looks like a plowing ox. She asks who bought this purse, and Meixiang tells her it was Xue Liang. The miss tells Meixiang to quickly call for Xue Liang and to send him off to choose another purse.

Meixiang tells Xue Liang that the miss is still dissatisfied, and to go replace the purse. Xue Liang sings sadly that it’s not easy to run here and there because of this unicorn purse, why is one’s lordship always dissatisfied, and why don’t servants dare to say the truth bluntly.

Mrs. Xue comes and asks why is he crying so loudly. Xue Liang tells her that the miss is always dissatisfied over and over again, that she now sends him to exchange the unicorn purse, and that this old servant is embarrassed, not knowing where on earth to go and seek for another purse. Mrs. Xue tells him to come with her, they will go and take care of this matter.

Meixiang announces the old madam is here. Xue Xiangling pays respect to her mother who tells her to sit down to her side. The old madam tells that tomorrow the miss will be happy, finally the day of her marriage has arrived. “My dear daughter,’, she says, ‘Your dowry is already prepared entirely, yet you are not satisfied, is there anything else your heart desires? Why don’t you tell your mother? If you don’t speak I’ll get angry!”

Xue Xiangling reluctantly begins to explain what displeases her, but Meixiang interrupts her saying that the miss didn’t like the pattern of the unicorn purse, that’s why she’s disatisfied. Mrs. Xue laughs, saying that if she doesn’t like it, then she can come up with a pattern herself and ask Xue Liang to change it. What’s the problem then? Xue Liang assures that if the young miss isn’t satisfied, this old servant will go and get the pattern changed. Mrs. Xue tells her daughter that Xue Liang is already old, she should appreciate what he’s doing. The miss finally nods, so the old lady tells Xue Liang that the young miss is satisfied, and let’s all go for a rest. He thanks the madam who responds he must say thank you to the miss as well. He thanks the miss in turn. Meixiang tells him that the miss will reward him. “Thanks to the miss”, he says and leaves.

Mrs. Xue calls for Meixiang and asks her to bring her jewelery box. She tells her daughter to look carefully into the box and choose whatever she wants, to fulfill her desires. “Come see”, she says. “This pearl necklace is a priceless treasure, your mother’s beloved possession. Let’s put it inside the purse. And there is still more. See, here is this jade hairpin, isn’t it nice? Let’s pack it in here also.”

Meixiang says to the miss that her mother has given her so many things, is she still unhappy? The servant boldly declares that if she was in the miss’ place, she would grin from ear to ear. “Naughty girl”, scolds Mrs. Xue.

Xue Xiangling asks about the common saying: 多藏亦诲盗 (literally ‘to conceal much and teach to steal’). Mrs. Xue tells her that there is a native custom that if a girl gets married, she needs a unicorn purse in order to give birth to a son soon.
The next time Mrs. Xue turns around, the miss has already left. Mrs. Xue asks Meixiang where the miss is. Meixiang says the miss has returned to her room to rest. Mrs. Xue tells her to quickly deliver the pearls. “Naughty girl”, she laughs. “Mother and her beloved daughter are the same, hahaha! Oh, what a jest!”

(next scene)

Zhao Luhan sings that his fortune is bad, that he was honest but poor for a half a lifetime, and now the marriage day of his daughter has arrived and he doesn’t have a single penny. He depends on borrowed money just to be able to hire a small sedan chair to carry her, and though his daughter doesn’t mind, it’s still hard for him to tell her about it. He’s calls for his daughter to come in.

Zhao Shouzhen enters, singing that a woman born under an unlucky star can’t complain about being poor and living in a humble street; her father is worn out, busy rushing about all day long because of her engagement. She has pity on her parents because they had to borrow money for her wedding.

She asks her father why is he so depressed. Zhao Luhan answers that he has failed as a father, and he is sorry for his daughter. Shouzhen tells him not to speak like that. Her father tells her that her marriage day is tomorrow, and although he had never before borrowed a single cent, today he had. As a father his heart couldn’t endure this. His daughter tries to comfort him, saying he doesn’t need to be so considerate, her heart isn’t sad, tomorrow she will head to her new home in the sedan chair, which was auspicious. Zhao Luhan says though he had a fine daughter, light will not shine up on his face.

(next scene)

He Jixiang enters and tells about the speech he has just finished this morning. Words and sentences came smoothly… Now someone has invited him to come and say flattering words about Zaoshen, the God of kitchen. He Jixiang admits that as long as silver money lands in his hand, he’ll say respectful congratulations, wishing them to live forever in conjugal bliss, honor and riches. He introduces himself as He Jixiang (literally “congratulate” “lucky”) and his father as He Fugui (literally “congratulate” “riches and honor”). His family have acted as wedding attendants from generation to generation for the bride or groom on weddings.

“Today is the 17th. Tomorrow the 18th is a good day, there will be two weddings: one for the Xue family and one for the Zhao family,” he says. “The Xues have a big house, a big family, and they are very rich. The Zhaos have a small house, a small family. I want to go to the Xue wedding to start to broaden my horizons, but I’m afraid my father won’t let me to go. Hey, I ask him to come here and discuss the thing with him. Now that’s a good idea! Dad, please come here!”

He Fugui comes and tells us that this morning he and his son both were best men at the wedding Jixiang previously mentioned; hearing that his son was calling him because of business matters, he suggests to stand a bit aside, then asks him why was he calling him so early in the morning. Jixiang repeats that today is the 17th, tomorrow the 18th, that’s a good day, there will be two weddings: one for the Xue family and one for the Zhao family, and he was calling him to discuss whether he’ll go to the Zhao wedding or the Xue wedding. “Let me think about it”, says Fugui.

Finally Fugui figures out what they will do.

“All right, it will be like this. I will go to the Xue wedding, and you will go to the Zhao wedding.” Jixiang asks why he has to go to the Zhao wedding. His father answers that the Xue family have a big house, a big family and a big ceremony, so because he’s old and has wide knowledge and experience, he’s the most suitable to go to the Xue wedding. The Zhao family have a small household, a small family, theres no business there at all. Moreover, the son still has no beard (so is not experienced enough) to handle such a matter firmly.

He Jixiang says he also wants to go to the Xue family, but his father tells him it seems that his son is a bit self-interested.

“Why am I self-interested?”, he asks.

“Because you dislike the poor people of Zhao family, that’s why!,” replies Fugui. Jixiang responds to his father that in that case he’s self-interested too. Next the father asks, “Why am I self-interested?”

“You dislike the poor Zhao family as well because they have no money; you said they have small house, small family, you are also a snob!,” says the son. They repeatedly call each other, “You little snob!” and “You old snob!”. They come to an agreement that if the father is an old snob, then, since he comes from the same ancestral line, the son is a little snob. Finally the father says, “I told you, tomorrow I go to the Xue wedding, and you go to the Zhao wedding. If you’re disobedient, I will beat you, so don’t make your father angry!” and leaves. Jixiang vows that tomorrow he will also go to the Xue wedding, no matter what, and leaves in turn.

(next scene)

Zhao Luhan tells the gong beater to beat his instrument. “I say you are deaf or blind, am I not beating it?,” he answers. Zhao Luhan says he meant to beat it full force. The gong beater that if he is beats so strongly that the gong breaks, can Zhao Luhan afford to buy a new one? And by making little noise, he’s actually treating Mr. Zhao fairly, for what he deserves. Zhao Luhan tells him he’s a selfish young man.

Meixiang looks at the sky and declares there’s a big rain coming. Zhao Luhan asks the gong beater boy to be more gentle when putting down chairs, someone is inside that sedan chair over there. The gong beater answers that he knows it well, but she’s not a chicken egg, she can stand being bumped. Zhao Luhan says again he’s a selfish young man.

Meixiang takes a closer look at the other group seeking shelter from the rain.

She sees it’s a marriage sedan chair too, though it’s so small, and the green is not green, the red is not red, what colour is it anyways?

Zhao Luhan overhears and asks Meixiang who is she and why so loud-mouthed?

“Who, me, loud-mouthed? Let me inform you: I’ve never seen such a tiny and worn out sedan chair before,” insists Meixiang.

Zhao Luhan becomes very angry that such a young person makes fun of him because he’s poor. His daughter calls for him. Meixiang realizes somebody is inside the sedan chair and begins eavesdropping. Zhao Shouzhen asks her father to stop displaying his emotions so, explaining it is senseless to argue needlessly. If poor people meet supercilious people, those will make fun of them, so he must strive to be patient.

Meixiang returns and says to her Miss the rain may be heavier than expected.

Xue Xiangling sings to the Miss, “Spring and Autumn Pavilion outside is exposed to wind and rain, whence this sad sound is coming? Separating the hanging screen, I see a marriage sedan, presumably a newly wed is crossing the magpie bridge.” (Between the stars Altair and Vega in the Aquila constellation, folk characters and separated lovers Weaving maid and Cowherd boy are said to meet there once a year). “On such a lucky day, when one should be laughing happily, why I see pearl tears falling? Now I understand that on the earth there are rich and powerful people, but also hungry, poor, and sad people, who weep and are bitter. That woman in the sedan chair certainly keeps a secret in her heart, a tidal wave of emotions.”

Zhao Shouzhen, parting the curtains of her poor sedan chair, sees that the other bride’s family is rich and powerful. She’s worried that if they meet mockery again, her father will become very anxious.

Meixiang calls for Zhao Luhan impolitely, asking what about that girl, she’s getting married, why isn’t her family cheerful and optimistic? Zhao Luhan says she’s his daughter, and that she likes to cry; either way whether she cries or not, it’s none of Meixiang’s business. Meixiang ponderas about this old fellow is very tough, and his daughter is getting married tomorrow without knowing she’ll even have a kang (heatable bed with straw mat) or not?

Xue Xiangling says she heard heart-wrenching sad sounds, and asks who is wailing so loudly? Maybe her future husband is too ugly for to her, just like a crow taking possession of a phoenix’s nest? She asks Meixiang to find out why this other girl is crying so bitterly? Meixiang answers, “They came here to avoid the rain, we came here to avoid the rain, but the sky will clear up after rain and we will both leave, so why care about other people’s business?”

The miss declares Meixiang is speaking twisted words to avoid embarrassment. To pity the poor, help the tired is human sympathy. How can one just watch with folded arms?

Meixiang says she will inquire.

Meixiang asks Zhao Luhan to come. “What is it again?,” he asks.

“Our young miss is asking why is your daughter crying?”

Mr. Zhao replies, “You came here to avoid the rain, I came here to avoid the rain, but the sky will clear up after rain, and we will both leave, so why do you care what she does?”

Meixiang insults Mr.Zhao and reports to the miss that he refused to tell her.

The miss declares that it’s hard not to be suspicious with Meixiang asking so bluntly and carelessly. The Miss tells her she shouldn’t be so arrogant to people and speak so imperiouslyy. This time she sends Xue Liang to investigate.

Xue Liang asks Zhao Luhan very respectfully to approach. They have a courteous formal conversation, with Xue Liang asking his name, who is in the sedan chair and why is she crying? Mr. Zhao answers his name is Zhao Luhan, that person is his daughter, and she’s crying because she was touched by a clashing meeting between rich and poor.

“Thank you for your trouble,” says Xue Liang as they part. Xue Lian then reports to the miss what she has been told.

Meixiang jeers. “So she cries half of the day because she has no dowry? Needless to say, if she had the dowry our miss has, if she was given our Miss’ unicorn purse as a present, she could make a living for half of her lifetime!”

Hearing Xue Liang’s words, Xue Xiangling’s pride melts away like snow. She realized she is pampered, that the other girl is poor and hungry, and that one single branch of coral from her dowry would be a solid foundation for Zhao Shouzhen for half of a lifetime.

Xue Xiangling silently calls for Meixiang and asks her to secretly transport the unicorn purse to the Zhaos, without revealing her name.

Meixiang tells her, “Young miss, if you insist on giving the unicorn purse as a present, I will not dare to hinder you. But this unicorn purse, the old madam handed it over to you herself, even referring to a grandson…” Xue Xiangling tells her that giving birth to a promising son due to the mysterious power of the female unicorn is only a fairy tale, merely flowery words to honor rich and powerful persons. It’s more important that this tiny sack save the other girl from hunger and thirst.

“All right, if I must…” says Meixiang reluctantly.

Once again Meixiang impolitely calls Zhao Luhan.

“Our young miss has pitied your daughter, and is giving this unicorn purse as present,”, says Meixiang insolently. “There are pearls and agates in it, all very valuable stuff. Accept it, it’s enough to feed you for a lifetime. Take it, will you?”

Zhao Luhan refuses to take the purse. Xue Liang comes to the rescue, telling Mr. Zhao in a very courteous manner the same things, that their miss heard his daughter crying, pitied her, and has decided to send this purse as a present.

Zhao Luhan still says they really can’t accept it, but Xue Liang convinces him that Miss Xue’s intention is sincere, so finally he accepts with many thanks.

“Good gracious!” he exclaims, “I’ve been rushing from east to west to borrow money to gather together my daughter’s dowry, but couldn’t get a single coin. Today I meet this benevolent young lady. Could she be a living Buddha, or a prominent saint?”

Meixiang notes that the old many is very superstitious.

Mr.Zhao shows the purse to his daughter, explaining it came from the benevolent lady they met today. Zhao Shouzhen asks the name of the miss, so someday in future she can return the favor.

Zhao Luhan asks the housekeeper the name of the miss. Meixiang quickly replies, “Our young lady’s name is Xue…”, but Xue Xiangling interrupts her, warning not to tell. Meixiang quickly changes topic, saying the sky is clear after the storm, so let’s get up and beat the gongs, so they can leave.

Mr.Zhao asks the young man again to beat his gong. “You are very forgetful, wasn’t it said a moment ago that if this gong breaks, you can’t afford another one?” he answers. Zhao Luhan tells him that now they have a unicorn purse, full of money. The gong beater can’t believe it, is he serious? Mr.Zhao assures him it’s not a joke, so happily and noisily they leave.

(next scene)

He Fugui and He Jixiang give out traditional wedding instructions.

“One: worship to heaven and earth!” (wedding ritual, the groom and bride are kneeling down)

“Two: pay respect to the parents!”

“Man and wife must obey one another!”

Enter the bridal room both gong beaters in a heated argument.

Xue Liang asks them to slow down and asking why are they arguing. They both want to be the first to speak. Finally the old man explains, “I tell you what’s the matter. Today is the 18th, it’s a good day, two young ladies are getting married. One of them is the Zhao girl. I permitted my son to go to the Zhao wedding, but he disliked the poor Zhao family and also came to the Xue family wedding. Tell me, isn’t he self-interested?’

Now the son speaks: “Better listen to me: today is a good day, there are two weddings today, one of the Zhao family, one of the Xue family. He disliked the poor Zhaos, he said they have a small household and family. He looked down upon them because they have no money. Tell me, isn’t he self-interested?”

They begin arguing with each other again.

“Slow down, slow down!,” says Xue Liang, “You two don’t need to argue. In my opinion…”

“You tell the truth!” say both the father and son.

“You are both self-interested!”

The Hes admit that he is clear sighted and leave, taunting each other on the way out. “This way please, old self-interested…” “Please, little self-interested…”

(next scene)

He Jixiang comes with bad news. A fierce wind is blowing, heavy rain is pouring down, swelling the river. The dam is flooded. He hurries home to inform his old father.

(next scene)

Meixiang tells us that several years have passed since the young miss married into the Zhou family. Now the little master of the house, Xue Xiangling’s son, has already grown tall. Today is the day when Xue Xiangling returns to her parental home, the trip is all ready. She asks the lady to come in.

Xue Xiangling sings she’s happy to meet the day when she visits her home again. Her son, Zhou Daqi, asks if they are going to his maternal grandmother’s house. When his mother says yes, he declares he won’t go, that when last time they were there, he wanted to tie up a grasshopper in his grandmom’s hair, but she didn’t allow it. His mother scolds him, “How could your grandma allow you to pull out her fine black hair just to entertain you?” She promises her son that they’ll buy a bamboo pony to play with it in the courtyard. “Mom, you’ll really buy me a horse?” he asks. “Will it be fine?” he asks again, then, “Yes, I want a green horse!”

Xue Xiangling tells her son that black and white horses are readily available, but where to get a green horse? Yet Zhou Daqi insists and yells he wants a green horse. When Meixiang says there isn’t green horse, he tries to kick her, yelling, that he won’t listen to her, he obeys only his mother.

Turning to his parent, the child asks, “Mom, is there or not a green horse?”

“There is, there is!,” says Xue Xiangling. Then to herself, “I love him so dearly that I indulge him too …”

Xue Xiangling then sings about how time flies by unnoticed like an arrow after marriage, how one’s youthful appearance changes.

On the long road in the chariot with her son, she hears crying voices that frighten her. Why are all the people fleeing and shouting? She trembles with fear, and hurriedly orders the cart driver to turn back.

(next scene)

Zhou Tingxun arrives by boat, with a lifeguard flag indicating “life-saving”. He laments the misfortune and disaster that has fallen down from the sky, causing widespread flooding by a vast body of water. Are his beloved wife and son alive or dead? How could he not be heartbroken?

He Jixiang begins to weep. He Fugui asks him why is he crying.

“Hey, can’t you hear what he says?” replies He Jixiang. “Was his wife able to escape the flood? As he was saying this, my grandmother came to my mind.” His father is upset.

He Jixiang continues. “He also doesn’t know whether his son escaped the flood, and as he was saying this, my father came to my mind…” He Fugui interrupts him, explaining that his son isn’t allowed to speak. The son argues that three lifetimes are too short to speak in front of a wealthy person. They start a dispute again over who is the most self-interested, nearly turning the boat over.

Zhou Tingxun tells them there’s no need to argue.

Suddenly, Zhou Tingxun sees that in front of them there is a child on a lifeboat. The child looks like his son, Daqi. Is it he?

“I see him, I see him!’, says the young He.

“Good eyesight!” replies the old He.

“You two, quickly set sail to there!” orders Zhou Tingxun.

(next scene)

Lu Yi and Lu Ren discuss that the Deng prefecture is under flood, and that there are victims everywhere. They don’t know how their landlord can manage the famine relief charity kitchen alone. Since the flood, refugees flee from here to Laizhou. Their landlord’s heart cannot bear this, he has asked in vain the local wealthy families to set up charity kitchens to help disaster victims. Who would believe that those rich families are not willing to spend money on charity? Their landlord, Lu Shengshou is furious about this lack of help, and has set up a charity kitchen alone for that’s what his heart dictated to him.

They decide to go to the charity kitchen without delay to help out there.

Old Mother Hu tells that due to the flood, the Deng prefecture is on the verge of becoming fully depopulated. Formerly, she was a servant at the Xue residence, but now with the city flooded, where could she go to find some food? Fortunately she adds, here’s Landlord Lu who has set up a free food stand. She now relies entirely on the three daily meals she gets there to stay alive. It’s already late today, but still she has to fill this old belly of hers…

Old Mother Hu hears Xue Xiangling’s bitter cry from a distance. “Oh, do you hear it?” she asks. “There’s the sound of moan and groan everywhere!”

“Oh, my old mother,” Xue Xiangling laments. “My son, Daqi! Officials, hurry and bring me news! I sent Meixiang to the public courtyard, why hasn’t she returned yet? Officials! I’m hungry! My belly is starving. My husband has disappeared, he’s neither here nor in the town’s surroundings. Could it be true that the ruthless flood has separated him from everyone who were carried in the boat? My dear old mother was surely killed by the waves, and my son had the bitter fate to be buried in a fish’s stomach.”

Hu Po realizes it’s the Madam, and they greet each other.

Xue Xiangling says it’s as good to see Hu Po as to hear music on an deserted hill, and asks her whether she has seen her husband or his chariot?

Hu Po answers that she’s afraid that Xue Xiangling won’t see her mother or father again in this lifetime.

Xue Xiangling says hearing this causes her whole inside to ache. She asks Hu Po to come back to her parental home to seek for the bodies of her parents.

Mother Hu says that she’s afraid that their corpses have become fish and shrimp manure by now. She asks Xue Xiangling to stop weeping, and whether she’s hungry or not.

“Yes, I’m starving, Hu Po!” says the lady. “Will you serve me a meal?”

Hu Po informs her that she should go to the government residence. There she can order a meal and get four dishes in eight big bowls: pan-fried shredded pork, meat slices, exotic delicacies, and whatever more she wants.

Xue Xiangling worries about what kind of meal she can buy, she has no hipsack on her side with silver money. Hu Po suggests that in this case she should go with her to eat some porridge. Xue Xiangling doesn’t know what kind of porridge. Mother Hu tells her that a local landlord, Mr.Lu, has opened a porridge shack for the victims of the Deng prefecture disaster.

Xue Xiangling declares the meal won’t be good.

Hu Po asks why not?

The lady answers that she thinks that the porridge must be leftovers, bad quality product, and that a bowl of thin porridge will hardly allay one’s hunger.

Hu Po laughs about how the lady bites words and chews characters. “These times are different from those times.”

This conversation breaks down Xue Xiangling’s illusions. Slowly they both go to the charity kitchen.

Lu Ren and Lu Yi are distributing the porridge.

“How dare you!”, says Lu Yi to He Jixiang. “One man, two bowls?”

“There’s my father too!” He Jixiang answers.

“Right! This drop of porridge is all you’ll get, go back! Go go go!” says Lu Ren.

“There’s no more today.”

“Come back tomorrow!”

Xue Xiangling gives her bowl of porridge to a grieving old lady. Hu Po protests, “What are you doing? Now my bowl is gone too!”

“Each and every man and woman is as thin as a match,” says Xue Xiangling.

Hu Po is still lamenting why she has given the porridge to the old woman. Lu Yi is asking her why are they still bothering here if the porridge distribution has finished. Hu Po explains them that the lady is a newcomer. The Lus ask her to return, explaining they have to discuss something with her. Lu Yi says that at their residence there is a vacant post for an older female servant, to nurse the boss’ little son. He saw this lady in sorrow, and pitied her, thus he asks Hu Po to discuss with her whether she mighy be willing to apply for the post.

“Wait, we discuss it!” says Mother Hu. “Did you hear that?”, she asks Xue Xiangling, repeating what Lu Yi said. “Are you willing to go or not?”

The Lady asks Hu Po if it’s such a good thing, why won’t she go for it herself? Mother Hu scolds her not to speak like that, she’s already too old, how could she help out? Yet if the lady takes the nursing job, she’ll have food and accomodations. She will ask about the whereabouts of the lord and the madam, all right?

“I understand you went to a lot of trouble for me. I’m willing to follow to the rich family’s household, if only to have enough food and warm clothes,” says Xue Xiangling.

Hu Po is relieved that the lady has agreed and she leaves to tell the Lus. They ask Xue Xiangling to follow them.

Xue Xiangling asks Hu Po whether she will come and see her there. Hu Po assures her that if she has some spare time, she surely will go.

Xue Xiangling asks again, will Hu Po surely come and see her?

The old woman reassures her and asks her to go with the Lu brothers, but Xue Xiangling asks the same thing for the third time.

“Haven’t I told you a moment ago?” says Hu Po. “If I have spare time, I certainly will go and see you, now go with them! Go, go!”

Lu Yi declares they must leave, there is a long way to go. On the way, he speaks about the rich family’s boy, pampered and spoiled since childhood.

Once arrived, he asks Xue Xiangling to wipe off her tears and to wait outside while he informs the master about her coming.

The lord and the madam arrive.

Lu Shengshou and Zhao Shouzhen explain that they used to be poor people in Dengzhou, but that they received a purse as a gift. Lu Yi pays respect to them and reports that following Lu Shengshou’s wishes, he has found someone to amuse the little master of the house. The lord asks to call her in.

“Don’t look so distracted, greet our lord and lady!” orders Lu Yi.

Xue Xiangling pays respect to the madam who in turn asks her name and where she comes from. Xue Xiangling tells her that her family name is Xue and comes from Dengzhou. The madam asks about the conditions in Dengzhou. Xue Xiangling informs her that it’s entirely submerged by the flood.

“That’s really, really tragic,” says Zhao Shouzhen. “My dear husband, can we not offer her shelter?”

“As you wish,” he answers.

Zhao Shouzhen calls for the maid and orders her to lead Xue Xiangling away to change clothes. Zhao Shouzhen then asks Biyu to call the little boy to come in.

“Little master of the house!” yells Biyu. “The madam is calling you, hurry up!”

The son, Lu Tian Lin (“lin” means unicorn), pays respect to his parents, and in answer to his mother’s question about what he has done behind to entertain himself, he explains that he had been studying a book and had fun.

His mother queries the boy how is it fun to read a book? Tian Lin explains to her that he was reading while playing, isn’t it more interesting?

His parents discuss that though he is young in age, their son has an ambitious spirit because normally studying is not fun for children. The father notices that the son is covered with dust, his mother asks where the dust comes from.

Tian Lin replies that when he got tired from reading, he went to swing in the backyard garden but wasn’t careful and fell down. His mother asks anxiously if he is hurt but the son assures her it’s nothing.

“My son,” says Zhao Shouzhen. “We hired a nanny to entertain you, are you happy?”

Tian Lin replies he doesn’t want a nanny, that she surely will be like the other one (pointing at Biyu): ugly, dirty, and very unsightly.

His mother assures him that this person has a pretty appearance, that if he sees her he will be fond of her at once.

“I will take a look then,” says the boy. His mother orders Biyu to call “Mother Xue”.

“Xue Ma!” calls Biyu. “Have you changed clothes? Hurry up, come!”

Xue Xiangling, feeling awkward in black servant clothes, appears. Seeing her, the boy declaeres she looks outstandingly beautiful, and that he wants to play with her.

“I came here to entertain you, little boss!” says Xue Xiangling.

The boy repeats he want to play with her, so Zhao Shouzhen instructs “Xue Ma” to lead the boy to the backyard garden to have fun.

“I follow your order,” says Xue Xiangling.

Biyu guides them to the garden, but the mother Zhao Shouzhen repeatedly asking Xue Xiangling to return to receive new orders: when in the garden be careful near the goldfish pond, watch out for the rocks at the lake, don’t provoke the bees, push aside the spiderwebs, don’t let the long pine needles prick the little lord.

Last time the mother Zhao Shouzhen asks them to come back, the husband Lu Shengshou interrupts: “Madam, let me remind them myself instead: be careful at the goldfish pond, watch out the rocks at the lake, don’t provoke the bees, push aside the spiderwebs. That’s all you said, isn’t it?”

“No,” answers his wife. “There’s one more important thing I want to say to her. As you lead the little lord to the garden, there is that vermilion house at the eastern corner, he absolutely cannot go up there! If you go against my order, there will be no pardon!”

“This, on the contrary, is an important matter, you must remember it,” says Mr. Lu to Xue Xiangling.

“Come along, follow me,” repeats Biyu to Xue Xiangling and finally they leave.
(next scene)

Tian Lin asks his nanny whether her family has a big house. Biyu enlightens him: if Xue Xiangling’s family had a big house, why would she come here to be a servant?

Next the boy asks whether they have an especially big garden.

“Xue Ma! You see, this is our garden, isn’t it very fine? The air is really fresh. Look, these flowers are very beautiful! Look, look! Come here, and listen to me! To amuse the young master of the house is easy, you just cannot tap, touch, pinch, or rub him, because if you tap, touch, pinch, or rub him, you will have to ask for a pardon. Are you listening to me?”

“Many to beware of,” says Xue Xiangling. Biyu tells her it’s nothing, she’ll teach her. Biyu shows the toys, but Tian Lin takes them.

“Here’s one toy, can you hear it?” and he blows the trumpet. Tian Lin explains it’s extremely unpleasant to hear and sends Biyu away.

“Goodness, the little one has no conscience,” says Biyu. “Enamored with new people, bored with the old! If he doesn’t play with me, I can go and be alone!”

Tian Lin says he wants to play with Xue nanny. Xue Xiangling says all right, then hands over different toys to the boy, asking for each if it will do. But none of the toys are good enough for Tian Lin.

“None of them are good? Let me collect them for you…” says Xue Xiangling, picking up the toys. Tian Lin says that he’s already tired of all those toys, he wants her to give him a new toy.

“A new one? How about if I cut out a paper doll silhouette for you?”

“A small paper doll? Very good! Xue Ma! Quickly cut it out for me!” Tian Lin repeatedly asks Xue Xiangling to hurry. She cuts a paper doll and asks the boy whether he likes it.

“Really not bad! I want more like this!” he replies. “Xue Ma! Can you cut out a horse?” When she replies she can, Tian Lin says that he wants a green horse.

The words ‘green horse’ remind Xue Xiangling about her own lost son. Tian Lin tells her to stop daydreaming, and to do it more quickly!

Xue Ma tells him that the man has two legs, the horse has four legs, naturally it goes a bit slower. Finally the horse is ready.

Tian Lin says, “Let’s have the small paper doll ride the big horse! Xue Ma! It can’t walk!”

“How could a papercut doll be able to walk?” asks Xue Xiangling.

The boy says he will show her how a horse walks, getting down on all four. Xue Xiangling asks him to stand up quickly, not to make his clothes filthy. Tian Lin replies it doesn’t matter, if the clothes get dirty, his mother will buy him new ones. Now that he was shown her how, she too should walk like the horse for him.

Xue Xiangling tells him people are people, and horses are horses, so she can’t. The boy repeatedly asks her to walk like a horse. She says again she can’t. Finally Tian Lin frightens her that he’ll go and tell his mom she won’t play with him.

Xue Xiangling finally agrees to imitate the horse, but the boy thinks her performance doesn’t resemble a horse. Xue Ma says she can’t do it, because there’s no horsewhip. Now Tian Lin takes the role of the horse rider, and Xue Ma is the horse. Yet the boy says she still doesn’t look like a horse. Finally Xue Xiangling distracts his attention by asking whether he sees the butterfly flying over there. Now the boy wants the butterfly.

“Little master, don’t cry,” says Xue Xiangling. “I will cut you a paper butterfly, all right?”

“A papercut butterfly? That will be good. Hurry up, Xue Ma, do it quickly!” insists Tian Lin, but soon he falls asleep.

Xue Xiangling sings how in an instant, her former circumstances go entirely concealed, now she’s miserable and her clothes are wet from tears. She was leading a rich and honourable life, who would have thought that one’s life can be ruined in so little time. Back then she too acted like a spoiled child, now she cannot trust the future. This is a lesson from God, to make her regret how pampered she was, to change her nature into a better one… The female unicorn actually doesn’t bring luck. She remembers when she was married, her mother gave her a purse, decorated with an embroidered unicorn. Now her beloved mother was gone.

Tian Lin wakes up and asks why Xue Xiangling is crying, and why doesn’t she play with him? He will go tell his mother now.

“Don’t go,” says Xue Xiangling. “I was waiting for you to wake up, and didn’t want to make any noise. How about I catch you a black-naped oriole, would that be good?”

“To catch a little bird? Very good! Xue Ma! Let’s go!” he answers. “I want a little yellow bird! In addition, I want a red one too! Surely you can catch me a red one, right? Look, here’s my ball, Xue Ma! Look, I can play with the ball!”

Xue Xiangling repeatedly asks him to be careful, but he says it doesn’t matter, he’ll throw the ball as far as he can.

The ball goes on the roof of the vermilion house and the boy tells her to go get it.

Xue Xiangling says the madam said itwas forbidden to go there, she doesn’t dare to follow the little master’s order. Who will take the Madam’s blame? Tian Lin assures her that if his mom gets furious, he’ll take the responsibility. He repeatedly asks for his ball.

Xue Xiangling decides she has no alternative but to take her courage into her hands and get the ball, so very reluctantly she agrees to go up together with Tian Lin.

Stunned, Xue Xiangling finds the unicorn purse, while Tian Lin says that if she won’t play with him, he’ll inform his mom.

Xue Xiangling sings:

“Suddenly I see this purse, I still recognize it. It’s clearly the unicorn purse my mother gave me on my wedding day! Now I see it again, is it a dream? Holding this purse in my hand, remembering the sorrowful happenings of the past, it’s difficult to bear the pearls of tears.”

Zhao Shouzhen appears. “Outrageous! How dare you? Didn’t I tell you not to come up here? Indeed you violate my command and enter without permission? Come down with me and take responsibility!”

Xue Xiangling asks for forgiveness, explaining just a little while ago the little master was throwing his ball up here, and he then ordered her to bring it back.

The madam asks her son whether this is true. The boy assures her that it’s true, but when Xue Xiangling saw the red purse of his family, she began to cry.

“Really?” says the madam. “Xue Ma! Come down with me, I have something to ask. Don’t be afraid, come with me!”

The Madam asks her what she has seen. Xue Ma answers, “A unicorn purse.”

“What did you see?” asks the madam again.

“A unicorn purse!” she repeats.

The madam asks Xue Xiangling where she is from exactly, and when was she married?

Xue Xiangling answers she’s from Dengzhou and was married on the 18th of June, six years ago.

“Six years ago,” repeats Zhao Shouzhen. The Madam asks her son to go outside to play, and Biyu to let Xue Ma sit down.

Biyu is upset. Since when do servants have a seat in their honorific home?

“No need to be so talkative, hurry up!” orders the madam.

Biyu still arguing that it’s not right, bumps a seat besides Xue Xiangling and rudely says, “At your service, sit down!”

As she motions to sit down, Biyu makes a groaning sound.

Xue Xiangling offers the seat to the older servant, but Biyu says it’s not needed, that she’s accustomed to stand.

The madam asks Xue Xiangling whether she still remembers what the weather was like on June 18th six years ago, and to speak slowly.

Xue Xiangling says slowly: ‘Madam, allow me to make a repoooooort.’

Then Xue Xiangling sings, “On that very day the nice landscape suddenly changed. In a split second the sun turned pale like at sunset. In the sedan chair I felt that the sky had fainted into darkness. I heard the loud sound of wind, rain and thunder. Happy voices stopped, people began yelling, and heavy rain poured down from the sky.”

The madam asks if her marriage sedan braved the rain?

Xue Xiangling explains that they sought shelter in the Spring and Autumn pavilion to avoid the rain.

The madam has another question. At that pavilion, besides her marriage sedan, was there another sedan chair?

Xue Ma answers there was one.

Zhao Shouzhen then asks her whether she can remember the appearance of the another sedan chair.

“Separating the curtains of my sedan chair, I casted a short glance at the other marriage sedan. It was not pretty but usable,” she answers. “It was plain and simple, its colours worn out, with an old flower patterned curtain and ragged tassels, almost entirely broken.”

The madam suddenly orders Biyu to move Xue Ma’s seat to the guest side (the host sits on the east side of the guest).

Biyu again has objections, but Mrs. Zhao tells her once again to be quiet and hurry up.

The Madam then asks Xue Xiangling whether she heard sounds coming from that sedan chair.

Xue Xiangling sings that the sedan chair surely was hiding bitterness, for tears were plucking heartstrings, someone was weeping, resembling a cuckoo’s lamenting voice who wants to leave the courtyard, longing for the gorges. On the marriage day one’s face should appear pleased, why this pathetic, mournful weeping?

“When you heard the pitiful crying, did you just sit there motionless?”

Xue Xiangling explains that in those days her dowry was no less than millions, and that she wanted to help out the empty handed person in that sedan chair. Her unicorn purse came to her mind. Though it was small, it could support someone for a lifetime.

“What? You gave the unicorn purse to her?” asks the madam.

“Exactly,” answers Xue Xiangling. Hearing this, Zhao Shouzhen orders Biyu to move Xue Ma’s seat to a superior position.

“Madam, we already moved her seat to the guest side, now to a supreme position, can it be that a servant wants to deceive the master?”

Biyu is upset that she has been here for years and hasn’t been offered a seat. She cynically wishes Xue Xiangling to be proud of herself of rising higher and higher day by day.

Zhao Shouzhen asks whether there was something inside the purse.

“In the purse?” answers Xue Xiangling. “Gold, pearls, red coral, green jade, emerald, all kinds of brilliant treasures. Many dark pearls, a pure gold necklace, an amethyst hairpin, a white jade ring with the engraving of two phoenixes, eight precious hairpins and bracelets, all shiny and splendid. Though these were not enough for an eternity, it could provide for food and clothes for many years.”

Hearing this, Zhao Shouzhen now knows for sure that her great benefactor has arrived in her home, and orders Biyu to help Xue Xiangling to change clothes, giving her the madam’s nicest clothes.

Biyu asks why should she change clothes, hasn’t she changed them just a moment ago?

The madam, again, tells her not to talk so much and hurry up.

Xue Xiangling asks why the madam desires this?

Zhao Shouzhen assures her intention will become clear in a short time.

When Xue Xiangling asks the same from Biyu, the other says, “Why? Come here, I will tell you: both our master and madam are very good people, they have the greatest pity on every poor people on this whole world. No idea about our master, maybe he wants to fill up two bedrooms (keep a concubine), earlier there was my turn…”

Lu Shengshou comes and informs her wife that Xue Ma’s husband, mother, son, all her kith and kin have arrived to join her.

“What? They have all arrived? Good, good, good!” says her wife overjoyed. Lu Shengshou declares his wife is very merciful, she’s too compassionate, it cannot be helped. He asks her whether she’s ill or insane? Zhao Shouzhen tells him in a little time he will understand why is she so excited.

She asks the maid to request Madam Xue to come.

Xue Xiangling’s family arrives.

Zhao Shouzhen asks the old lady whether she’s the old Madam Xue? The old madam asks about her daughter.

Mrs. Zhao tells her they’ll meet each other very soon. She asks the maid again to call Biyu. “Biyu Jie, come quickly!” she calls out.

Zhao Shouzhen asks Biyu whether Xue Ma has changed clothes?

“Madam! Following your orders, I opened the chest for her to pick the best items, and guess what? When she changed clothes, she simply looked like a goddess, so very beautiful!”

Zhao Shouzhen tells her to request the pleasure to see Xue Niangzi. Biyu wonders how she became Xue Niangzi (mother/wife), then imitating her lady, she calls for her.

Xue Xiangling comes and sings, “When I changed my clothes to this beautiful garment, I look like I did before, when I was rich and honourable. Probably it’s a fantasy, am I in the land of dreams? Suddenly raising my head I see my old mother’s smiling face! I ask my dear mother, from where has she come here?”

Her mother tells her that she got onto a lifeboat, and they went ashore just a short while ago, then Hu Po informed them that she was here at this house.

Xue Xiangling sings that they can celebrate, luckily everyone returned alive.

As she sees her son, she can’t help but laugh with extreme happiness. God has raised her on his palm, hopefully her bosses won’t blame her for doing her job so flustered. Her husband asks her why she hasn’t discussed with him that she come here to be a servant.

Meixiang notes that if she’s a servant at this family, yet she’s dressed up so well, she must be truly blessed. Her husband also wonders why indeed, if she’s a servant here, is she wearing the highest quality clothes?

“You are a servant here?” asks her mother in turn.

Xue Xiangling says that she’s ashamed, her face is red like a begonia, but she can’t tell why she got the nice clothes.

Her husband says that alas, at this time he has no words to tell then. To the repeated question by her mother why the fine clothes, Xue Xiangling says she doesn’t know, they should ask Madam Lu who knows.

“Oh, I see!” says her mother. “I think you harbor malicious intentions!”

Biyu says that’s enough, they treated her well, she could eat and drink…

“Don’t talk nonsense!” interrupts Zhao Shouzhen. “I have something to tell you all, please listen to me. Long ago, when we escaped to the Spring and Autumn pavilion to avoid the rain, Xue Niangzi gave me a unicorn purse as a present. This great favor can never be forgotten. My desire has always been to pay her back, but I didn’t even know her name.”

“Oh, so it turned out this is she!” says Hu Po.

Mrs. Lu continues, “Today we met each other, and I intend to tie a profound friendship with Xue Niangzi. What do you think?”

“It depends on you, Madam!” answers Xue Xiangling.

“So, elder sister, please let your little sister pay great homage to you!” says Mrs. Lu.

Xue Xiangling’s sings that life is difficult to predict, now they unexpectedly here is a reunion. Looking back, the past is like a flourishing dream, surviving a line of stormy waves. At one’s darkest hour, a glimmer of hope comes to end the tears. Toss a peach, get back a plum, virtue will eventually have its rewards.

(End)

Finale of the Unicorn Purse

Thank you, 赌东道 !

Zhang Huoding

(update 2011-08)

I can’t resist adding a couple of nice photos of Zhang Huoding performing this opera which Fern sent me:

Zhang Huoding

Zhang Huoding

(originally published on: May 13, 2010)

Here is Zhang Huoding in her signature role, the white snake.

This is a role she has reprised several times. It has been televised often and filmed. I have three complete versions of this opera myself.

This version is a filmed stage play, a superb quality .RMVB video downloaded in two parts through peer-to-peer from China using aMule on Linux. These two files can be viewed with VLC.

Click here to download Part One of the video

The file size is 488 MB.

Click here to download Part Two of the video  

The file size is 265MB.

Among the highlights of the opera:

  • A very nice pantomime of the floating boat turning by male co-star Song Xiaochuan;
  • Zhang Huoding singing the best known aria from this opera (which comes at around 31 minutes in);
  • An extended martial arts choreography one hour in;
  • Some close-ups that allow good glimpses at Zhang Huoding’s magnificent hand-embroidered costumes — my own grandmother who sold her embroidery professionally back in the old country would have marvelled at these.

A word about Beijing Opera “Wenxiaosheng” roles as performed here by actor Song Xiaochuan, who is a regular of Zhang Huoding’s troupe.  Wenxiaosheng play youthful scholars, princes and lovers. Their daily wear is often a pastel hua xuezi, with floral embroidery. The hat is a Xu Xian jin, a smaller version of the yawei jin (duck-tailed hat), specifically for this role, with a piece of white jade (maozheng) in front to indicate youth. The performer wears the typical xiaosheng makeup, with an arc of rouge between his brows. (source: “Beijing Opera Costumes” by Alexandra Bonds, page 6)

All this to say that this role is as highly codified in Chinese operatic traditions as it is off-putting to western audiences. Simply put, this kind of male romantic lead role comes across to unprepared westerners a lot more like Boy George than Brad Pitt or a young Clint Eastwood. It helps if you are used to hearing counter-tenors in baroque western operas like Handel’s. If not, prepare yourself for somewhat of a shock.

According to Google Translate, Song Xiaochuan attended the Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts and is a disciple of Ye Shaolan. He is just a few months older than I, born February 2, 1961 in Beijing. He does a surprising acrobatic flip at the beginning of Part Two which belies his middle age.

There is a tedious 7 minute “Powerpoint style” introduction at the beginning of the clip you have to wait through before the opera begins.

As for the story of the “Legend of the White Serpent”, here is one version (apologies, unfortunately I lost the source links):

Admiring the worldly life, two snakes turned into beautiful ladies by the names of Bai Suzhen and Xiao Qing, after practising asceticism for 1,000 years in the Emei Mountain. They were caught in a heavy rain by the West Lake, but luckily met a young man named Xu Xian, who let them borrow his umbrella and took the same boat.

Xu and Bai fell in love with each other and soon got married. But the couple was persecuted a great deal by Monk Fa Hai, who envied their love and happiness. Xu believed Fa Hai’s words, and got Bai drunk during the Dragon Boat Festival. He was scared dead by Bai who turned back into a snake. After Bai woke up and realised what happened, she risked her life to steal back the glossy ganoderma to save Xu’s life


Here is another, more elaborate version of the same story:

There are many legendary stories happened in Hangzhou, “Lady White Snake” is one of the most popular folk tales. We could find it in many local dramas such as Yueju, Kunqu, Chuanju and Beijing opera, In some Chinese classical literatures, it is also could be read, for instance in Sanyan Erpai written by Feng Menglong and Ling Mengchu. It is expanded in china extensively. The story moved Chinese from generation to generation.

The episode is the stormy love affair between the loyal heroine Lady White Snake and her emotionally but faint-hearted husband. Taking the shapes of two women, White Snake and Green Snake toured on the West Lake. There they met Xu Xian on the Broken Bridge in a rainy day, whom White Snake fell in love with and married shortly, on the one hand, she would like to repay an obligation for Xu Xian saved her from a hunter several generations ago with the help of Kwan-yin; on the other hand, she truly loved this average man for his honesty and kind-heartedness. After they married, they set up a drugstore named Baohe Tang, which nowadays has been the national preserve, for stopping the human from the disease. On a May Festival, Xu offered an herb drink, Liuhuangjiu, to White Snake. Resisting the effect of the herb in vain, White Snake turned back to a snake, which shocked Xu to death. For saving his husband, she tried her best to turn to for help all through the earth and heaven. After many sufferings and setbacks, she succeeded in saving her husband. Later, she was imprisoned in Leifeng Tower until her child, Xu Shilin, who was a nationwide top examinee in the imperial examination, came to this tower and requested the god for helping him to save his mother.

This is a love story but also a family story, basically reflecting the folk wishes. This is the main ideas of this romantic story which to some extent indicates Chinese people’s sentiment and thinking. In Ten Scenes of the West Lake, there are two scenic spots, that is, Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow and Lingering Snow on the Broken Bridge. You will have distinctive understanding towards these scenic spot from before on condition that you know these legendary stories and the background culture.


Once again, here is world-class artist  Zhang Huoding at the peak of her skills.

There is no other choice than to enjoy!

(originally published on: Apr 8, 2010)

Download the video here.

Here is my favorite singer, Beijing Opera star Zhang Huoding (张火丁), in an abbreviated one hour version of the famous Chinese opera “The Dream of the Spring Chamber (Chun Gui Meng)”.

The story: in the 3rd Century of the late Han Dynasty, the armies of two warlords battle each other. A young woman’s newly wedded husband is taken away to join a warlord’s force and is killed in battle a short time later. Day by day, she begins dreaming of her husband returning to her.

I keep leaning closer when I watch this, and catch myself with my nose almost touching my computer screen. Zhang Huoding is poignant as she radiates sheer happiness and joy when (she believes) she is reunited with her husband. Ultimately, she will face the bitter truth.

The performance here might be a bit more laid back, and not as dramatic as on the DVD of the same opera, which Zach purchased for me in China, with nearly all the same performers. I found the camera work particularly lazy on this video during my favorite sequence from the DVD, when Zhang Huoding is slumped on the floor and begins singing, only to end up in a dizzying dance. But the sound on this video is better overall than on the DVD, I think.

This opera comes from a CCTV-11 broadcast and was downloaded through peer-to-peer aMule on Linux (it took a week). The sound is superb and the oversize video picture is great, although it tends to be a bit blurry during the fast movement which happens mostly right at the beginning. The file format is Real Media .rmvb and can be played easily on VLC. No other software is required. The file size is about 380 MB.

I hope you enjoy the dream as much as I did.

See you next time,

— Bertrand

(originally published on: Apr 2, 2010)

Click here to download the video

The pronunciation of the title is “Huang Shan Lei”. It literally means “Tears on the Barren Mountain”. My “coup de coeur“, Zhang Huoding, is the lead female performer. She comes in about 10 minutes into the play.

This is an excellent quality .RMVB file which can be viewed with VLC. The file size is 548 Mb, and is about 90 minutes long.

It’s worth watching until the end as a mob of admirers literally pursues the petite Madame Huoding with flowers!

This opera was recorded off CCTV in China and is not commercially available. In fact, even on the Chinese web site where it was streamed, it was unwatchable because of the slow transfer rates. In addition, the Chinese web sites split up large video files (perhaps to make my life more difficult). The Firefox add-on DownloadHelper, which works great on Youtube, was of no use.

My friend Zach provided the solution to allow me to download it originally in .FLV format: the Chinese software Vidown. Please note that there are several versions downloadable here and there, which I tried, but only version 0.9.5 worked perfectly for me. Don’t be put off by the Chinese web page, the software is very well translated in English. Thanks once more, Zach!

Vidown is simple. You give it the URL of the Chinese web page with the video on it and it will download each chunk one by one (don’t know how it figures this out) and finally assembles the video chunks into one single file. When you have it running and you copy a URL, it automatically grabs it from the clipboard, ready to go. It is terrific!


(click image to view closer)

Later, I downloaded the larger format file with aMule on Linux.

(March 2011 update)

Fern from megapoxy.net was kind enough to forward me her own version of the story for this opera. Thank you Fern!

The story is set during the reign of the last Ming emperor, the muddle-headed Chongzen, born Zhu Youjian.

It’s a tragic story of a family of five members: the poor farmer Gao Liangmin, his wife Mrs. Chen, his son Gao Zhong, his daughter-in-law Zhang Huizhu and his grandson Bao Lian.

The emperor is continuously levying high taxes, further deepening the suffering of the people. There is a severe drought in Henan that has lasted for months and farmers can’t harvest any crops, this year famine will strike. Moreover, Yang Sichang (the Minister of War) is ordered to put down the peasant rebellion led by Li Zhicheng; this results in more taxes and forced military service. More and more desperate people join the uprising, and the Ming empire will soon collapse.

Zhang Huizhu is weaving silk fabric day and night and Bao Lian is selling it at the market, to be able to pay the taxes.

One day, Gao Liangmin and his son are going to the forest to collect herbs. They are warned by Gao Liangmin’s good friend, Bao Shide, that the hills are extremely dangerous, because there are man-eating tigers on the loose which have already killed a woodcutter and a traveler. But Gao Liangmin is more afraid of the government than the tiger, so they go nevertheless.

Two tax collectors (Wang Sixiang and Cui Defu) come to the Gao house, and though Mrs. Chen says they already paid the tax before, they demand more. Zhang Huizhu tells them that they can pay as soon as Bao Lian comes back from the market, so
the duo is waiting until he arrives. The tax collectors take away 5000 coins, half of the amount brought in. Mrs. Chen is upset, but Bao Lian tries to comfort them that when his father and grandfather come back from the mountains, they can
get a good price for the herbs on the market.

It’s late at night, Bao Lian is waiting for his dad and grandpa to return. He falls asleep after a while, his mother comes and affectionately covering him. Zhang Huizhu were still weaving at the night, but she continuously makes mistakes as she is weaving. She worries that it’s a bad omen, and something has happened to her husband and father-in-law. Why are they staying away so long, what could happen to them? Are they lost in the forest?

Next morning Bao Shide comes with devastating news: both Gao Liangmin and his son were killed by the man-eating tiger. Hearing the news, Mrs. Chen coughs blood and collapses. Bao Shide runs for a doctor.

The two tax collectors return again, and this time they take 3000 coins, no matter how Zhang Huizhu begs them not to. What’s more, Minister of War Yang Sichang arrives as well, forcefully taking away Bao Lian for obligatory military service despite his young age and family conditions. Mrs. Chen, hearing chaotic voices outside, gets up from the bed and tries to stumble to the door, but she falls to the ground and dies. Zhang Huizhu, who has lost all of her family members by now, doesn’t even have enough money to bury the old lady.

But there’s no end to the disaster. Though the people are already extremely desperate, the imperial court want to implement exorbitant taxation. Even Wang Sixiang and Cui Defu say that it’s not possible, so the county magistrate punishes them, both getting 20 strokes of the whip. In the end the two tax collectors return to Zhang Huizhu again, claiming 4000 coins from her. She has only 1000 left. The tax collectors allow her some time to find more money and go elsewhere first. As soon as they exit, Zhang Huizhu takes a knife and escapes to the Wangwu mountains, which once were like paradise but now are desolate.

Bao Shide follows Zhang Huizhu to the mountains, trying to hold her back, warning her about the tigers. Zhang Huizhu says she’s not afraid of the tigers, that if they eat her, it will be a blessing.

The two tax collectors catch up withn her on the mountain pass, where they have pursued her.

When they see she’s holding a dagger, they say they were just ordered on, it’s nothing personal. Zhang Huizhu fiercely tells her opinion about the whole social situation the country is in, that people are poor, desperate, houses are empty, and that nobody cares about the common people…

As a final protest against tyranny she commits suicide, slicing her own throat with the dagger.