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Forbidden Love
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By David Ferguson

 The Wedding Feast – one of the visual highlights of the opera.

The Wedding Feast – one of the visual highlights of the opera. [Hongyu Zhu] 

On first exposure, Peking Opera presents a bit of a challenge to your average western art-lover. The unusual (very, to a western ear) melodic structure, and the piercing, (very) high-pitched tones – which apparently evolved to allow the performers to make themselves heard over the noise of the cymbals and drums that accompany a performance throughout – take a little getting used to.

But the success of Mei Lanfang, who first popularized the art form in the west, and the popularity of the current biopic of his life story "Forever Enthralled", show that attempts to bring Peking Opera to a western audience are by no means a lost cause.

Live in China for any length of time and you will almost certainly encounter numerous groups of elderly locals in the parks for their post-prandial constitutional, singing Shanghai (Huju) Opera or Peking Opera, or other forms of operas. Spend a little time listening and you will soon begin to appreciate the quality of the form, even if only by virtue of the occasional shortcomings of some of the performers.

Even so, a full-scale full-length traditional Peking Opera may be a little too much for many tastes. I even know some Chinese who would privately confess that they would rather like not to have to sit through a whole one, thank you.

This makes "Forbidden Love", a joint production by Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Group and China Heaven Creation International Performing Arts Co, all the more welcome. The work is currently on a run at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities through 2009, and while rigorously respecting the traditions of Peking Opera, it combines them with a selection of choreography, acrobatics, and martial arts that make for a fabulous evening's entertainment. Add on some extravagant visual effects provided by the scene setting, the lighting, and the video backdrops, and no-one has any excuse for letting their eyelids droop during the course of the show.

Lady Blue is outraged by her sister's shameless conduct.

Lady Blue is outraged by her sister's shameless conduct. [Hongyu Zhu] 

The plot is an ancient folk tale known throughout China. Lady White (Zhang Ying) and her sister Lady Blue (Liu Yuanyuan) are (almost) immortal snake spirits who inhabit Mount Nan. Inspired by curiosity about love, they take on human form and travel to the earth. At the West Lake they encounter Xu Xian (Su Xu), a simple accountant in a herbalist's shop, and to the horror of her sister, Lady White falls in love. The lovers contrive to meet again through the device of a loaned umbrella.

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Forbidden Love
A traditional folk tale in classic opera style with choreography, acrobatics, martial arts, and stunning visual effects, makes for a evening of entertainment par excellence.
Forbidden Love
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