11-12.11 (Wed – Thu) 7:30pm
Stunning adaptation of smash-hit novel on imperial court intrigue
Empresses in the Palace (Parts I & II)
Shanghai Yue Opera House’s epic production of the story of concubine Zhen Huan, who longs for freedom but is destined to spend her days struggling to survive poisonous politics and power games, was a sell-out on its first run and winner of the Outstanding Repertory Award at the Third China Yue Opera Arts Festival. Part I features emerging operatic talents in sparkling form while Part II brings together award-winning artistes in a gripping, psychologically nuanced performance.
|Performers:||Li Xudan, Yang Tingna, Wang Qing, Shi Yanbin, Wang Rousang, Qiu Danli, Chen Huidi, Wang Jie|
12.11: Part II
Performers: Wang Zhiping, Qian Huili, Huang Hui, Chen Ying
Performers: Zhang Ruihong, Chen Ying, Zhang Hailing
|Performers:||Qian Huili, Zhang Ruihong, Wang Zhiping, Chen Ying, Huang Hui, Wang Qing, Chen Huidi, Wang Rousang, Xin Yaqin, Sheng Shuyang, Yang Tingna , Qiu Danli|
(Wed – Sat)
*Some seats may have a restricted view
Romantic stories featuring scholars and beautiful women, such as the legendary Butterfly Lovers, the love-torn tale of Tang poet Li Shangyin, and concubine Zhen Huan’s search for love amid palace intrigue, never lose their popular appeal.
In Shanghai Yue Opera House’s 60th anniversary year, and ahead of its shows in Hong Kong, company director Li Li takes you through the creative process behind the group’s works, comparing narrative development, dramatic timing, characters and approach to romance.
Speakers: Li Li (Director, Shanghai Yue Opera House, and leading performers)
Moderator: Chen Shu (Chinese Opera Critic)
Butterfly Lovers is not only a household folktale but also one of the mainstays in Yue Opera. Spend half an hour with Chines opera critic Chen Shu before the show to explore how the combination of tragic love story and traditional art form become a classic.
Speaker: Chen Shu (Chinese Opera Critic)
Chang Chi-feng/ Assistant Professor of Department of Theatre Arts at University of the Arts in Taipei who specialises in xiqu.
Since the ancient times, the theatre has housed countless tales of union and separation, many of which were inspired by scant facts found in historical texts. From history to xiqu, numerous heart-rending shows have sprung from the dramatists and artists’ imagination.Smeared Historical Figures
The character of Cai Bojie is one such example. He was in fact Cai Yong, a famous scholar of the late Eastern Han dynasty who is depicted as a filial son in history books. In the popular nanxi (Southern drama) Zhao Zhennu and Cai Erlang from the Song dynasty, however, Cai Bojie is a heartless man who abandons his parents and his wife to pursue fame and success, and who ends up being struck by lightning. In the Yuan dynasty, Gao Ming wrote the Tale of the Pipa in which Cai Bojie is the ideal of a righteous man. Both of these versions of Cai Bojie have nothing to do with Cai Yong. With the regularisation of the imperial examination in the Song dynasty, many scholars from a humble background earned a place in the state bureaucracy. This saw to numerous stories of scholars abandoning their wives to align themselves with those in power, which were written into the huaben (medium length story or novella) and xiqu at the time. A victim of his fame, Cai Yong was transformed into the classic treacherous man in popular works of art. While Gao Ming attempted to redefine the character of Cai Bojie, he did it primarily for the purpose of "moralising the people through xiqu". There was no going back for Cai Yong, whose reputation remains tarnished to this day. A good many unfortunate historical figures were reinvented and distorted over and over by creators of xiqu who used them as the embodiments of one’s ideas. Intentionally or not, these dramatists and artists all took part in the rewriting of history in xiqu. Such rewriting treads the line between fact and fiction, as the charm of literary works lies in the shift between the real and the illusory. In xiqu, the real and the illusory speak through each other to arrive at the "truth" in art — a "truth" that is closer to human nature.Men in Politics
Although The Peach Blossom Fan by Qing dynasty dramatist Kong Shangren contains a faithful account of historical facts, Hou Fangyu the protagonist is completely unrelated to Hou Fangyu the historical figure. At the end of the play Hou and the heroine Li Xiangjun meet again, yet they have to part and retreat into religious seclusion. This ending broke the norm of happy endings in the chuanqi (short stories written in classical Chinese) by literary dramatists in the Ming and Qing dynasties. More importantly, Kong Shangren created in the fictionalised Hou the ideal scholar — one who refused to serve the Qing court amidst the change of dynasties — even though Hou was, in fact, a reowned late-Ming scholar who attempted the imperial examination in both Ming and Qing dynasties. Since Kong’s reinvention, many artists have explored this character in their works. Taiwan’s 1/2 Q Theatre presents the self-questioning of Hou Fangyu between the two personas of Hou from the Ming dynasty and the Qing dynasty on stage. A Poet's Lament by Shanghai Yue Opera House also centres on men, politics and choice, as it examines human nature through the aperture between history and literature. Set against the "Niu-Li Factional Struggles" in the Tang dynasty, it depicts the tremendous changes and difficult decisions faced by poet Li Shangyin, in the immediate aftermaths of his success in the imperial examination.In the Harem of Imperial Concubines
As these male characters wrestle with political recognition and difficult choices in life, the women in the harem of imperial concubines brace their stern and sometimes tragic fate. Wang Zhaojun and Yang Yuhuan may be the best known of all emperors’ consorts in Chinese history. As her legend lives on in countless versions, Wang Zhaojun might have been the heroine who threw herself into the river out of her loyalty to the Han dynasty, or the sorrowful bride with her pipa destined for a faraway land. Some contemporary works have re-examined her story from the perspective of a female artist, like the works by Taiwanese playwrights Wang Qi-mei and Wang An-qi. Yang Yuhuan has her most famed incarnation in The Palace of Eternal Life by Hong Sheng of the Qing dynasty, seizing the spotlight in kunqu for a few hundred years. Unlike Kong Shangren who expounded on history through the romance in The Peach Blossom Fan, Hong Sheng focused on Emperor Tang Xuanzong and Yang Yuhuan’s love story against the historical backdrop in The Palace of Eternal Life. As for Yue opera Empresses in the Palace, it takes us back to the setting in the original novel, where the three young and naive heroines Zhen Huan, Shen Meizhuang and An Lingrong embark on life of intrigue in the harem of the imperial concubines.The Love We Long For
Both The Peach Blossom Fan and The Palace of Eternal Life have their basis in historical facts without hewing close to history, and the stories revolve around politics and love to different degrees. To the people, love was always the reigning motif. The character Liang Shanbo was a state official of solid standing in history. The story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai embodies the ideal love — an eternal love that conquers all. In contemporary works, the story continues to resound in endless metaphors and associations. Be it cross-dressing, sexual orientations or gender fluidity, Butterfly Lovers shines in its various facets — it shines a torch on the love we long for! These motifs of love, politics and history will always light up the stage and our grasp of life, for as long as the art of xiqu is alive.