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Helping Peking Opera stars shine

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-22 08:24
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Mu, a teacher with the Chinese Opera School Affiliated to Shanghai Theatre Academy, performs a Peking Opera piece in Shanghai in 2017.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Male coaches hone skills of classical performers as they win over new fans, Chen Nan reports.

The stars of Peking Opera are applauded, appreciated and admired. Their delivery, dexterity and expressions combine to produce a commanding performance for viewers and aficionados.

But how do they master their art before going on stage? Yin Jun can help. He has been coaching actors and actresses for TV dramas and movies, which feature Peking Opera, for almost a decade.

His job is to train them in the basic techniques of the traditional art form.

However, when Yin, a Peking Opera artist, was invited to join the TV drama, Winter Begonia, adapted from the popular online novel of the same name, he was initially reluctant to accept.

Set during World War II, when the Chinese were engaged in a war against Japanese invaders, the 48-episode TV drama, which premiered on streaming service iQiyi on March 20, chronicles the friendship between Cheng Fengtai, an overseas-educated businessman who is a big fan of Peking Opera, and Shang Xirui, a Peking Opera master.

"When I read the script, I realized that there are so many scenes featuring Peking Opera, from performances onstage to singing and showcasing the work and life of these artists offstage. I had never encountered such a situation before (with so many elements included), so I said no," recalls Yin. The 32-year-old artist was born in Weihai, East China's Shandong province, and was introduced to Peking Opera by his grandparents, both die-hard fans.

Then Yin had a complete change of heart. The TV drama was shot in a studio in Hengdian, East China's Zhejiang province, from December 2018 to April 2019. One day Yin visited a teahouse at the studio, built exclusively for the drama.

It was based on the original Huguang Guild Hall, a Peking Opera performance venue first built in 1807, where famous Peking Opera artists, such as Mei Lanfang and Tan Xinpei, performed.

"When I stood alone on the center of the stage, I was totally in the zone, imagining myself performing onstage. Peking Opera is one of China's most treasured art forms and it would be great to let more people see it. I felt that it was the right thing to do despite the difficulty. I immediately changed my mind and accepted the job," says Yin.

For four months, Yin worked with the actors and actresses of the drama, not only teaching them to perform Peking Opera but also performing himself as a character in the drama.

To guarantee the quality of the performances featured in the drama, Yin invited his friend, Mu Yuandi, who is also a Peking Opera artist, to coach, perform and dub for the role of Shang Xirui when he sings Peking Opera melodies in the drama.

The series was a huge success and Yin and Mu won many fans. Of particular interest was the nan dan (a male who plays a female role). This tradition was forged out of necessity. For much of its history in the old, feudal society, women were forbidden to perform Peking Opera.

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