Peking Opera school being brought to life on TV

By Wang Kaihao ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-11-30 08:38:57

Peking Opera school being brought to life on TV

Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang (center) with his students Li Shifang (left) and Mao Shilai in 1936. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A documentary on a legendary Peking Opera school will soon hit TV screens in the country.

Fuliancheng (also name of the school) is a 10-episode documentary coproduced by Beijing Foreign Studies University, Renmin University of China and Central Studio of News Reels Production.

The documentary, which covers the school's history since its establishment in 1904, will be shown by China Central Television from next month.

Each episode will be 30 minutes. No date has been set for the premiere.

"We were extremely careful about the details when making the documentary, so we did not hurry," says coproducer Sun Ping when pointing out that it took five years to make the documentary.

Sun, a veteran Peking Opera performer and educator, has also led studies and overseas promotions of Peking Opera at Beijing Foreign Studies University and Renmin University.

About 100 Peking Opera performers, scholars and children of former Fuliancheng gurus from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan were interviewed for the documentary.

Giving details on how meticulous the process of collecting material was, Sun says: "It took 20 years to collect the relevant material."

Founded by Ye Chunshan, Fuliancheng was the most prestigious institution for those learning Peking Opera decades ago. About 800 top-level performers were nurtured there.

Renowned masters Mei Lanfang and Zhou Xinfang also spent their childhood there.

Niu Biao, an 82-year-old Peking Opera scholar, attributes the development path followed by the opera to this school.

"The disciplines and operation of Fuliancheng define Peking Opera education. And its education style and management system have meant much more beyond its walls," he says.

The documentary will be broadcast overseas through the Confucius Institute first before it is given to TV stations abroad. Work on the English subtitles is ongoing.

Gao Feng, vice-president of China Central Television, says that the documentary is only the first step in making a TV series on the subject.

Shooting for a TV series based on the documentary will begin next year.

Gao says: "The abundant historical files collected (for the documentary) will be a solid foundation for a TV drama, which can be both loyal to the facts and full of stories."

Both Sun and Gao agree that the upcoming TV drama will probably not feature established actors.

In their eyes, Forever Enthralled, a biopic on Mei's life starring Leon Lai and Zhang Ziyi, is far from authentic because when the actors without Peking Opera backgrounds speak on screen, it feels unnatural.

Gao says: "Peking Opera performers have unique habits and language quirks that are difficult to reproduce."

This is the main reason the leading roles in the upcoming TV series should be played by Peking Opera professionals, he adds.


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