Lin Meimei (younger sister Lin) is what many Yueju Opera fans call Wang Wenjuan even today, though the renowned actress is now 79 years old.
In 1957, Wang played Lin Daiyu in Yueju Opera film A Dream of Red Mansions. The much-delayed public screening in the early 1980s gained both box-office success and critical acclaim across China.
Wang's Lin, the leading female character in A Dream of Red Mansions, arguably China's greatest literary masterpiece written by Cao Xueqin (1715-63), is quiet, tender, sensitive and unpretentious. Mostly her songs are pure and soft, yet her voice booms, thickens or quivers from time to time exhibiting an eruption of both the character's repressed deep love and her fiery hatred.
Today's audience eager to view again Wang as Lin Meimei can go to the Yifu Theater tomorrow, where three of her performances will be staged as retrospectives for her splendid artistic life. The performances will also celebrate the 100th anniversary of Yueju Opera, which originated in Zhejiang Province and is now one of the most popular Chinese traditional theaters.
During the concert, Wang's performances in classical shows at different phases will be screened to accompany live shows by some of her best students.
Yueju Opera, like other Chinese traditional theater, insists on strict traditional succession through a teaching system where different masters select their own students and teach them their distinct skills.
Wang debuted in Shanghai in 1938 and later formed one of the 13 liupais (artistic schools with distinct singing and performing styles) of Yueju Opera. She has taught dozens of students, many of whom have grown up into brilliant stage performers.
"It is my dear teacher's glorious stage image, her excellency in both performing skills and her artistic spirit that confirm my belief in Yueju," says Shan Yangping, one of Wang's most famous students who will perform in the concerts presented by Shanghai Yueju Opera House. "She taught us ways of behaving ourselves both on and off stage."
Though Wang will not perform herself, she will meet the audience to deliver her appreciation.
Besides several scenes from A Dream of Red Mansions, also staged will be the scenes from such classics as Guan Hanqing, Bai Mao Nu (The White-haired Girl), and Shuang Fei Die (Butterfly Flying), all of which have neither been recorded nor replayed for decades, according to You Boxin, director of Shanghai Yueju Opera House.
"Traditional theater, if seeking further development, should walk closer to our times while clinging to the past, practice more while resting to think, hold tradition in high esteem while encouraging innovation," says Wang.
"Sincerity towards art and life is what a good performer must cherish always. Now looking back into those early years, I feel regret that many roles I played weren't perfect. And I'm hoping young performers make up for my lacking," she adds.
Though time has ruthlessly creased her skin, clearly it has failed to win over her heart.
Date: April 25-26 (excerpts from classic shows); April 27, "Meng Lijun" (full edition), 7:15pm
Address: 701 Fuzhou Rd
Tickets: 50-280 yuan (April 25-26), 60-380 yuan (April 27)
(Shanghai Daily April 26, 2006)