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Living for Huangmei Opera
( 2003-11-12 08:28) (China Daily)

Wu Qiong had some interesting things to tell the media at a Beijing press conference.

Wu Qiong poses in full costume. [File photo]
"Huangmei Opera brings me success and happiness as well as difficulty and frustration. It is like my lover; if I get too close, I wrangle with him, but if I left him, I would miss him so much," she said.

Wu, once the country's leading Huangmei Opera actress, announced last month to the Beijing press she was preparing to perform two classic Huangmei Opera repertoires, "Tianxian Pei (A Goddess' Marriage)" and "Nu Fuma (Emperor's Female Son-In-Law)" at the capital's Grand Chang'an Theatre from Thursday to Sunday.

Wu left Huangmei Opera circles and became a pop singer in 1992, after she won the second prize in a nationally televised contest for young singers.

Now she is returning to the theatre which she left behind 11 years ago.

"My inner passion for Huangmei Opera and the expectations of loyal fans for my return, as well as their enthusiasm for Huangmei Opera brought me back," she said. "There have always been people asking me when I would return. Now I hope I can live up to their expectations."

Before the Beijing performance, Wu's wish was realized in July when she performed in East China's Anhui Province, where she was born and became popular some 20 years ago. Well over 1,500 local fans gave her a standing ovation following her glorious return.

The origins of Huangmei Opera can be traced back to 18th century tea-picking ballads, which sprang from a county named Huangmei in Central China's Hubei Province. Those songs were brought to Anhui Province by migrant farmers in the early 19th century, when their hometown was often besieged by both drought and floods. Anhui proved to be fertile ground for the art.

The moving plot, beautiful music and excellent singing made the two plays household names.

Both are trademark works of Yan Fengying (1930-68), the most famous actress in Huangmei Opera history. Wu once was called "little Yan Fengying" in the 1980s, as both her voice and singing style were similar to Yan's.

Wu loved singing songs, especially those popular theme songs of movies in her girlhood. Singing those inspirational songs, the 13-year-old girl was admitted to the provincial Arts School to learn Huangmei Opera in 1975.

After five years of hard work, Wu, as one of the top five students at the school, was recommended to the provincial Huangmei Opera troupe where, by chance, she got the most important inspiration in her life.

She heard a record of master Yan's aria in "A Goddess' Marriage" when she passed by the reference room of the troupe, and was impressed then and there.

"The moving singing kept lingering in my mind and I felt it was the most beautiful tune I had ever heard, thus I started to learn from Yan's voice and style. I was 18 years old then, a good age for an actress to learn," Wu recalled.

One year later, she performed "Emperor's Female Son-In-Law" for the first time. In the dress rehearsal, when she finished the last tune, all the viewers remained silent.

"I was so nervous at the very second, thinking I gave a poor performance. But a few seconds later, the rehearsal room burst into applause. Some older artists came up to tell me that I reminded them of Yan herself," Wu said.

She rose rapidly in fame and was known as "little Yan Fengying" throughout the country.

However, Wu was not satisfied with only imitating Yan.

Since the new repertoire "Meng Jiangnu" in 1985, Wu has tried to explore and establish her own style.

Thanks to her gifts and hard work, she achieved success again. Her fans soon accepted her as Wu Qiong herself, a new Huangmei Opera star. She expanded her repertoires and portrayed quite a few impressive roles, including Feng Suzhen, the heroine in "Emperor's Female Son-In-Law," and the Seventh Fairy Maiden in "A Goddess' Marriage."

However, it was at the peak of her career that Wu left the theatre to sing pop songs.

"In the early 1990s, I felt too exhausted to perform and something was wrong with my voice because of too many performances," explained Wu.

At that time, she was the most sought-after actress in Anhui. Hordes of fans flocked to the theatre to see her perform. She said sometimes she even had to give three shows every day from 9 in the morning to 9 in the evening.

Coincidentally, she won second prize in the national TV contest for young singers in Beijing where she met Jin Tielin, a vocal professor with the China Conservatory of Music, who has taught a dozen famous singers including soprano Peng Liyuan, Song Zuying and Wu Bixia.

Thus, Wu moved to Beijing and acknowledged Jin as her teacher to learn the scientific way of voicing in 1992.

The first few years in the capital were by no means easy. An already popular actress became a newcomer in the pop scene.

"I had to be patient and accept the lonely and simple life without flowers and applause," she said.

"It is the wish for future that pushed me not to give up. And even though I am returning to sing Huangmei Opera now, it does not mean I will not sing pop songs any more. And I never regret the years I spent in Beijing."

Over the past decade, the diligent singer whose voice features the rich flavour of Huangmei Opera, has learned much and opened her vision. And most important, she has never really given up on Huangmei Opera.

In 1999, she teamed up with an Anhui TV station to produce a 100-episode documentary on Huangmei Opera, which highlighted almost all of the remaining repertoires of the 200-year-old local opera.

"My mother, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, watched some of the plays I performed and told me: 'You should live for the Huangmei Opera,'" Wu said.

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