Veteran actress to restage masterpiece Pan Jinlian

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Acclaimed Kunqu Opera actress Liang Guyin, 77, will play the role of Pan Jinlian in the eponymous opera as part of the 11th Classic Chinese Opera Series at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Acclaimed Kunqu Opera actress Liang Guyin may be 77 years old, but she will soon return to the stage to play the role of a character who is 60 years younger as part of the 11th Classic Chinese Opera Series at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center.

The winner of the prestigious Plum Performance Award, China's top award for operas and dramas, will play the lead role of Pan Jinlian in the eponymous opera that revolves around a character from the 17th-century Chinese novel, Jin Ping Mei.

In the story, Pan poisons her husband after her extramarital affair was discovered and is later beheaded by her husband's younger brother. Although Pan's name in Chinese is a synonym for a slur against women, audiences have in recent times started to sympathize with the character as she was forced to marry her husband, who had a disability.

Despite being a veteran actress, Liang says that playing this role at her age is not without its challenges.

"To be honest, I'm already old, so I wasn't very willing to play a 17-year-old who is supposed to be sexy and seductive," Liang said during the media conference for the Classic Chinese Opera Series on Jan 9.

"I will try my best to perform the role. I do hope audience will be tolerant."

Created by Liang and other Kunqu actors 32 years ago, Pan Jinlian blends beautiful singing with fight scenes. The production first premiered in Beijing in 1987 and was well-received, despite being produced on a modest budget.

Liang says that she and her colleagues from the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe only spent 2,000 yuan ($538) to design the stage as they were more concerned about keeping the costs low. The actresses even resorted to wearing old dresses borrowed from others instead of making new ones.

Liang says she will perform the difficult stunts required of her character, in addition to a series of complicated and energy-sapping dance moves. Liang will also need to crawl on her knees during the performance, a gesture that expresses the character's remorse and fear before she is killed.

"It's very easy for me to do all these moves, even at this age. I've practiced Kunqu since I was a child. I will never forget how to do it," she says, laughing.

Pan is one of the characters that Liang loves playing the most.

"It's hard to define Pan Jinlian in only a few words, as she is so sophisticated," she says. "I need to express her loveliness, sadness, seductiveness and cruelty on the stage."

The opera will be staged by the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe on March 31.

While Liang usually plays the role of huadan (young and pretty women) in traditional Chinese opera, she has also performed as a noblewoman, a nun, a queen and an evil character. The famous artist Cheng Shifa once commented that Liang's smile-and even her frown-is so enchanting that it can be turned into a beautiful painting.

"I am really looking forward to watching Liang's opera," says Liu Xinran, a Peking Opera actor who also performs huadan roles.

"Her singing is like a fresh breeze from the valley, and her movements are so light and smart. Her uniqueness is simply unforgettable."

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