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The Delicate Portrayal of Life as Peking Opera Actors (Part 2)

By Quek See Ling
Continued from The Delicate Portrayal of Life as Peking Opera Actors (Part 1)

The second story of One Hundred Years on Stage took place in the era of the Revolutionary Opera, which was the communists’ version of the Peking Opera. Hua Yun’s son, Hua Zheng, became an opera actor as well and had trained his female discipline, Ru Yuehan, to take on the leading female character in the Legend of the White Snake. They developed feelings for each other and the pair of embroidered shoes was given to Ru as token of his affection by Hua Zheng. However, it was the Cultural Revolution then and the embroidered shoes were seen as a remnant of capitalism, and a symbol of traditional culture that the communists wanted to rid the Chinese society of. Not able to withstand the torture that she was put through, Ru betrayed her teacher and made the latter’s life a living hell. Segments of the popular Revisionary Opera, The Legend of the Red Lantern, were featured in this act to accurately portray the situation during the Cultural Revolution.

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The ever-present luggage in the show symbolised the transient nature of the lives of the opera actors(Source: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore)

Hua Zheng’s son, Hua Changfeng, who was exiled to the north, was invited by Ru to play the leading male character in the Legend of the White Snake alongside her. The junior Hua was aware of Ru’s earlier betrayal but agreed to work with Ru. At the curtain call, Ru pushed the junior Hua to the front to receive the honour on behalf of the entire cast. Taken from the real life stories of renowned opera actors Ye Shenglan and Du Jinfang, Chinese writer and historian Zhang Yihe’s book, Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars, contained a detailed write-up of the story of Ye and Du.

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Renowned Taiwanese Peking Opera actress Wei Hai-min (middle) playing the title role in the Legend of the White Snake (Source: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore)

Singing into the Modern Times

Known as “the show within the show within the show”, the audience of One Hundred Years on Stage were watching a show about Peking Opera actors putting up a show, which was in itself a show of their encounters in life. Besides the dialogue, the songs were sung using traditional Peking Opera presentation and this combination brought out GuoGuang’s innovative approach of the old-meets-new, where the traditional Peking Opera is attempting to move towards the modern literary world. Featuring the best features of modern theatrical presentation and the traditional Peking Opera’s unique tune, One Hundred Years on Stage injects the much needed vitality into this traditional performing art form and attracting the younger audience.

The media coverage before and after the performance, with the who’s who in the literary world in Singapore in attendance, worked together to heighten the awareness about this evolving traditional performing art form. Looking past the hype and fanfare, GuoGuang’s effort to bring the Peking Opera into modernity may go a long way to help alleviate the lack of interest from the younger generations.

After all, the key to whether an art can capture the hearts of its audience is by the bridges built from the portrayal of human emotions – the more delicate the portrayal, the stronger the impressions will be.

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