China / Life

TV drama now a peking opera

By Chen Nan (China Daily) Updated: 2017-07-03 08:16

The Grand Mansion Gate, the story of the Beijing-based Bai family through one of the most politically tumultuous periods of modern Chinese history, reappears in a new avatar. Chen Nan reports.

It has been 16 years since Chinese director and scriptwriter Guo Baochang made Da Zhai Men, or The Grand Mansion Gate, a 72-episode TV drama based on the story of his adoptive father.

Considered a classic with a star-studded cast, including Chinese filmmakers Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige and Jiang Wen, The Grand Mansion Gate is the story of the Beijing-based Bai family through one of the most politically tumultuous periods of modern Chinese history, spanning from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) up until World War II.

 TV drama now a peking opera

The Grand Mansion Gate will tour the country after its premiere in Beijing.

Now, the story has been adapted by Li Zhuoqun, a 30-year-old director and scriptwriter, into a Peking Opera of the same name.

The show premiered at Beijing's Tianqiao Performing Arts Center over June 17 and 18.

It will go on a national tour, followed by shows in Japan and South Korea.

"When I got the idea of writing The Grand Mansion Gate decades ago, I thought of Peking Opera first rather than TV. But I did not pursue the opera option then because I could not find the right people," says Guo, 77, who is a big fan of Peking Opera and used lots of Peking Opera elements in the TV drama.

About two years ago, he saw Li's first directorial work, Yan Xijiao, which is about a love triangle comprising Yan Xijiao, a concubine, district official Song Jiang and Yan's secret lover, Song's apprentice Zhang Wenyuan.

Guo was impressed by Li's approach, which blends traditional techniques with a contemporary interpretation of the ancient art.

So, Guo decided to work with the young director.

Then, along with Li, he co-directed the Peking Opera version of The Grand Mansion Gate.

Li, who was born in Linfen, Shanxi province, to a family who worked in local folk opera, is credited with creating a market for Peking Opera shows in small theaters.

Fans say that her plots are simple and there are fewer characters to keep track of.

Li has been working with Jingju Theater Company of Beijing, which was founded in 1979, since her graduation from the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts about 10 years ago.

Recounting her reaction when she was approached by Guo, she says: "I was flattered when he came tome. I had watched the TV drama many times and was a big fan."

Peking Opera, known as jingju in Chinese, has a history of more than 200 years and was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2010.

Recalling the challenges she faced, Li says that the first one was the script.

"Guo said he wanted to do a show about the family but different from the TV version. So, we discussed the story over and over again. He wanted me to be original and creative," says Li.

In the TV drama, the focus is on Bai Jingqi, who is a rebellious and ambitious young man. He carries the hopes of his family, which runs a traditional Chinese medicine store in Beijing.

The original story comprises four chapters, which are named after the four seasons, but the Peking Opera version opens with Yang Jiuhong, the prostitute who Bai falls in love with.

Despite his family's objections, he marries Yang and brings her into the family, where she faces rejection.

Speaking about her role, Peking Opera actress Dou Xiaoxuan, who plays Yang, says: "It is a big challenge because most of the roles I have played before are women of high social status. The role of Yang is tragic and requires lots of emotion."

Dou had studied under famous Peking Opera actresses such as Du Jinfang and Li Weikang at the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts.

The 30-year-old says that He Saifei, who plays the role of Yang in the TV drama, inspires her.

"She has a strong personality. She guards her love and endures lots of pressure from the big family. In the end, she almost goes crazy but she still loves Bai," says Dou.

Li says that the average age of the team is about 27, which means that the Peking Opera version of The Grand Mansion Gate has a young feel.

"Making the ancient art popular with the young is what I have always dreamed of," she says.

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TV drama now a peking opera

 TV drama now a peking opera

Dou Xiaoxuan plays one of the lead roles in the Peking Opera The Grand Mansion Gate.

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