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Peking Opera strikes a chord in London

China Daily | Updated: 2017-10-26 10:08
Peking Opera strikes a chord in London

LONDON - With lavishly embroidered costumes, elaborate makeup and acrobatics, the China National Peking Opera Company performed Mei Lanfang's masterpiece The Phoenix Returns Home on Sunday to mark the 123rd anniversary since his birth.

The Phoenix Returns Home is a romantic farce, a tale of love, manipulation and mistaken identity. It was first performed by Mei in 1929 and is now one of the most popular of all the Peking Operas. It's packed with drama, comedy and music, and provides a perfect evening of entertainment.

During the performance, audiences in the United Kingdom were immersed in the intriguing art of Peking Opera and went on a cultural adventure into Chinese traditional artistic heritage from a world-class company. The magnificent costumes and the artful combination of dance, mime, music and acrobatics provides a source of wonder for audiences of all ages.

Li Shengsu led the cast in this light romantic comedy that tells an ancient Chinese story of marriage. The multiple arias are done in the style of Mei's school of performance.

Li is a student of Mei's son, Mei Baojiu, and a third generation Dan (women's role) performer of Mei's style. With her dignified stage presence, the finesse of her performance, and her sweet voice, Li's mastery of her craft brings life to the story of this beautiful girl living in ancient China.

The characters of the Chou (clown) role provide extra entertainment and drama. The misbehavior, mistakes and mischiefs of the clowns are a part of the plot's twists and turns, done with a typical Chinese sense of humor.

Li said that in the play, the happiness of the young woman about to marry the one she loves, her loss and frustration at the change of events, and the shyness and cherishing after misunderstanding is dismissed and a happy marriage comes, all of these emotional transformations have been presented in details.

"As the British love Shakespeare, Chinese are also proud of our classic theater. Peking Opera is the most representative format of traditional Chinese theater and has been regarded as a 'national treasure'," she said.

British audience member Sanjula Sharma said she heard about the play from her friends and simply wanted to know a little bit more about Chinese culture by watching the opera.

"I haven't seen it, I have seen many Western plays, but this is different, this is the first time for me. I think it is amazing. ...It is beautiful, the performance is excellent," she said.

Besides, the CNPOC also brought A River All Red, which is based on the true story of general Yue Fei from Song Dynasty (960-1279). Yue is one of the most famed generals in China's history and a legend of resolute loyalty to his country and allegiance to his people.

Yu Kuizhi, who led the cast, said he has noticed an increasing interest in the art from among the public, and particularly among the young.

"Never underestimate Western audiences," Yu said. "You may think that it would be hard for them to understand Beijing Opera but that's not true. Of course, we have different educational backgrounds and a different history and culture, but their level of art appreciation is no doubt world-class, especially the attention and awe they have for performers and the arts."

This is the fourth time the CNPOC has brought productions to Britain, following tours in 2005, 2015 and 2016.

Du Xiaoying and Zhang Yangfei in London contributed to this story.

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