New fans needed for Chinese opera

By Xu Feng and Yu Fei ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-07-15 06:59:21

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"Award-oriented opera productions are simply too vain," Peng says. "The whole industry should focus on increasing audience size by making these traditional operas more appealing to the general public instead of pleasing the judges."

Some opera artists have managed to attract a young crowd, while many others face the threat of dwindling audience numbers as their fans grow older and young enthusiasts are a rarity.

By giving lectures on Yue Opera to university students and making the stories more relevant to the younger generation, Mao Weitao, a Yue Opera artist and head of the Zhejiang Xiaobaihua Yue Opera Troupe, is a superstar among young opera fans.

Mao is keen to "urbanize" Yue Opera and make it appeal to a younger audience. About 60 percent of her troupe's performances have been staged in cities.

Industry insiders applaud Mao's innovation and efforts, but suggest they are not enough to make Yue Opera thrive and are not a perfect example for other opera genres to follow.

"Turning university students into fans is not the best way to create lifelong lovers of traditional opera. An adult may recognize the charm of these operas through lectures but they are less likely to be a real part of his life if he wasn't introduced to the art form when he was a child," Peng says.

Peng suggests that students receive more exposure to traditional operas. "To love something as an emotional need is different from the kind of love that's guided by reason," he says, noting that efforts in this direction are easier said than done.

Artists have to be careful in their artistic experimentation, he warns. Many crowd-pleasers have gone "too far" and lost their character.

Yang is aware of all the difficulties ahead, but she was happy when two young Han Opera and Chu Opera artists from her troupe won top prizes at the festival.

"I always tell my troupe members to stick to their passion and be confident," she says. "But I never make a promise. I just can't."

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