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Shanghai Opera House proudly marches into its 2024 season

By ZHANG KUN in Shanghai | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-12-25 07:43
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A scene from the Shanghai Opera House's new production March of the Volunteers, which premiered at the Shanghai Grand Theatre on Dec 15. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The Shanghai Opera House kicked off its 2024 performance season with the premiere of an original opera production, March of the Volunteers, on Dec 15 at the Shanghai Grand Theatre.

The opera named after China's national anthem tells the real story of its composers. Conceived by Nie Er, with lyrics by Tian Han, it was the theme song written for the movie Children of Troubled Times in 1935.

The opera recounted the creative process of the movie and the song, portraying the artists such as Nie the composer, Tian, the lyricist and playwright, alongside Xia Yan, co-writer of the movie, and director Xu Xingzhi, among others.

"Led by the Communist Party of China, these young writers and artists used their creativity as weapons, creating powerful artworks that played an important role inspiring public passion in the fight against foreign oppression," said Zhang Songhua, president of the art center of the Shanghai Grand Theatre. By presenting the story in a new original opera, Zhang hopes to inspire patriotic passion among young people in China.

The artists and writers lived and worked in Shanghai, and the movie was made in the city, he says. The Shanghai Opera House, an institution with a rich heritage in the creation and performance of revolution-themed opera productions, "seemed the perfect team for the project", he says.

Earlier this year, on Oct 1, the Shanghai Opera House released the first three songs of the opera at Xujiahui Park, right in front of the former studio of the Pathe Records, where Nie once worked as a music editor, and the first recording of the song was made.

An important new project supported by the Cultural Development Foundation of Shanghai, the new opera was composed by Meng Weidong, and directed by Liao Xianghong.

A major challenge during its production was that the opera features a group of eight leading characters, instead of just a hero and a heroine. To present a panoramic view and the stories of so many people, she adopted rapid scene changes, which occur almost every five minutes, without breaking the smooth flow of the music. "I think today's audiences will enjoy the melodic songs and the fast rhythm of storytelling," she says.

"Back in the revolutionary era, the Chinese soldiers greeted the victory on the battlefield humming March of the Volunteers," Liao says. "Today we still sing the song, as if the melody has melted into our blood. As the national anthem, the song represents China's national spirit. By presenting how it was created, we hope to reintroduce the group of young revolutionary artists to today's audience, show their passionate love for the nation, their robust creativity and what brought them together to achieve what they did."

According to Zhang Qingxin, deputy Party Secretary of the Shanghai Opera House and producer of the opera, March of the Volunteers will embark on a national tour next year, during the celebration of the 75th anniversary for the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The Shanghai Opera House also announced a series of international collaboration projects for the upcoming 2024 season. The company will join hands with the Royal Opera House of the UK to create a new production of Madame Butterfly, starring Chinese soprano He Hui, in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the death of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924).

In June, the Shanghai Opera House will present a Puccini Gala Night for the annual outdoor broadcast concert on the lawns of the Chenshan Botanical Garden, featuring international vocal stars.

The opera house will collaborate with China Shanghai International Arts Festival to produce Mozart's Don Giovanni in the autumn.

It will work with the Shanghai Oriental Art Center in a series of new projects, such as a concert production of the opera Salome, and the symphonic poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, both composed by Richard Strauss, and Mahler's Symphony No 2.

Also, as part of the celebration for the 60th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations between China and France next year, Maestro Xu Zhong, director of the Shanghai Opera House, will conduct a performance of the choral symphony Romeo et Juliette by French composer Hector Berlioz.

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