Peking Opera seeks young hearts

(shanghai daily)
Updated: 2006-12-25 10:45

Peking Opera, once a leading form of entertainment in the 1930s and a symbol of Shanghai's elite life, is hard pressed to attract young audiences today.

"The popularity of many new entertainments has meant a loss of young audiences," said Sun Chongliang, director of the Shanghai Peking Opera House.

"This problem of attracting new audiences has confronted most traditional Chinese operas. We must do something to make the traditional opera accessible, particularly to young people, and even to Western audiences."

In an effort to revive the age-old art form, the Shanghai Peking Opera House will launch Friday programs that feature both classics and new performances by young talents.

The repertoire in January and February includes "Chang Ban Po and Han Jin Kou" ("Long Hard Slope and Hanjin Pass"), "Wu Zixu" and "Xi Xiang Ji" ("Romance of the Western Bower").

Adapted from a famous chapter of the ancient Chinese literature "Romance of Three Kingdoms," "Chang Ban Po" centers on how the brave generals Zhao Yun and Guan Yu save the family of their leader Liu Bei from the enemy.

"Wu Zixu" portrays a renowned military strategist during the Warring States Period (476-221 BC). Despite his talent and loyalty to the Wu State, he was detested by emperor Fu Chai and finally committed suicide.

For those who are tired of stage productions about wars and politics, there's a hilarious love story, "Xi Xiang Ji." The opera revolves around the romance between poor young scholar Zhang Gong and Cui Yingying, a daughter of a former prime minister. With the help of a clever servant girl and matchmaker Hong Niang, the two marry despite opposition from Cui's family.

In addition to performances, special exhibitions of Peking Opera photographs, costumes, paintings, and old recordings will be presented at Yifu Theater to convey the opera's brilliant history and culture.

The opera house also will host free monthly lectures about charming and intriguing aspects of Peking Opera, said Deputy Director Shan Yuejin. Famous actor Shang Changrong and scholars will present young people with a clear picture of the art form.

In recent years, the opera house has been trying to bring vitality to the art form and to innovate. It recently staged the highly acclaimed version of "Hamlet" and has invited ordinary people to have their photos taken in full Peking Opera-style costumes.

The costume photography business has already attracted more than 300 white-collar people since it started in February. Next year the Peking Opera version of "Hamlet" will go on tour in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

Though a shrinking market is nothing new to traditional Chinese opera forms, Shanghai Peking Opera House has taken in more than five million yuan (US$638,570) in ticket sales this year, slightly more than in 2005.

Sun said the opera's guiding strategy is to cultivate and develop new loyal fans from wide potential audiences.

According to Shen Kai, a 26-year-old IT worker, it is time for Peking Opera to add some fashionable modern elements.

"Besides historical stories, the art form should enrich its repertoire to include more genres, especially more modern real-life plays," he said. "That will shorten the psychological distance between the opera and the young hearts."

Monthly free lectures on Peking Opera
Date: the last Saturday of each month, 10am-11:30am

"Chang Ban Po and Han Jin Kou"
Date: January 12, 7:15pm

"Wu Zixu"
Date: January 19, 7:15pm

"Xi Xiang Ji"
Date: February 2, 7:15pm

Address: Yifu Theater, 701 Fuzhou Rd
Tickets: 30-288 yuan
Tel: 021-6322-5294, 6474-5000


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