Keeping traditional Chinese opera alive and appealing to younger
audiences is a never-ending challenge in the face of fast-paced
modern entertainment, talent shows and pop music. Kunqu and Peking
opera highlights are on tap this weekend.
Both entertainment groups and artists themselves are trying to
innovate and expand the appeal of the ancient theatrical art forms.
Long, drawn-out stories are shortened and new elements - both
thematic and choreographic - are added to attract young people
accustomed to fast-food entertainment.
Since last April, the Shanghai Media Group has been preserving
valuable audio-visual recordings of 30 Yueju Opera masters and 32
musicians from old videotapes and floppy disks and transferring
them to DVDs.
Kunqu Opera artist Liu
Yilong (third from left) and his apprentices.(photo: Shanghai
The recordings span 80 years, covering stage performances and
interviews. Some are black and white silent video clips.
"This is an important campaign to prevent traditional art forms
from fading into history," says Yuan Xuefen, a famous Yueju Opera
According to SMG's program materials center, the digital copies
will be used for research and screened to increase public
Popular entertainment shows also have kept alive the spirit of
opera. Two TV programs "Kefan Hours," an interview show hosted by
Cao Kefan, and "Yueju Opera Young Actors TV Challenge Tournament"
were honored at the 20th Chinese TV Entertainment Star Lighting
Opera producers are being encouraged to preserve tradition while
adding modern elements, like dramatic stage settings and lighting,
to interest young people and help revive old arts.
Over this weekend, fans of traditional Chinese opera can enjoy
two performances featuring veteran singers and their young
Tomorrow night, renowned Kunqu Opera artist Liu Yilong and his
apprentices, Hou Zhe and Hu Gang, will stage a Lunar New Year's
show at the Yifu Theater. Liu, 68, from the Shanghai Kunqu Opera
House, is renowned for his portrayals of clowns (chou), a classic
Kunqu Opera originated 600 years ago in Kunshan, Jiangsu
Province, and it is more feminine and melodic than Peking Opera,
often telling love stories. It has a few stock character types: the
young male scholar (xiaosheng), the young woman (dan) and the
dignified, older man (laosheng). The young male scholar is
typically played by young female opera artists.
Veteran artist Liu can speak many regional dialects and has
depicted classic characters such as Lou Ashu, a thief in "Fifteen
Strings of Cash," and the powerful court eunuch Gao Lishi in "The
Palace of Eternal Youth."
Liu's repertoire tomorrow will include excerpts from the
classics "Water Margin," "Fifteen Strings of Cash" and "The Story
of the Wicked Sea."
"This is part of our Lunar New Year's series showcasing the
achievements and great personalities of the best artists," says Guo
Yu, director of Shanghai Kunqu Opera House.
On Sunday afternoon, Zhou Yanping will perform Peking Opera
solos. The presentations will include eye-catching settings and
fashionable elements while retaining the flavor of the original. A
symphony orchestra and traditional musical instruments will
The two-hour show will include excerpts from modern Peking
Opera, such as "The Red Lantern" and "Taking Tiger Mountain." She
will also perform popular Chinese folk songs in the spirit of
"I have simplified the traditional performing style to make the
art form accessible to young people," Zhou says. Each of the lines
will have Chinese subtitles to help the many people who don't
understand Beijing dialect.
Zhou rose to fame in the 1980s after her performance in "The
White Snake" and "Qing Xianglian." Acclaimed for her natural gifts,
she began formal vocal studies at the Shanghai Conservatory of
Music in 1989.
Zhou has her own way of passing on traditional arts. In 2003,
she founded her own Peking Opera studio, which has produced a
new-style original show, "Zither Romance," aimed at young
"I don't believe Peking Opera can only impress an elderly
audience today," says Zhou. "We have a large potential young
audience, and we need a good positioning and promotion program that
caters to their tastes."
Liu Yilong's Kunqu Opera Show
Date: January 25, 7:15pm
Venue: Yifu Theater, 701 Fuzhou Rd, Shanghai
Tickets: 30-380 yuan
Tel: 6322-5294, 6437-7756
Zhou Yanping's Peking Opera Solo
Date: January 27, 4pm
Venue: Shanghai Concert Hall, 523 Yan'an Rd.
Tickets: 120-680 yuan
(Shanghai Daily January 24, 2008)