Peking Opera and Kabuki are two different genres of theater. But for Peking Opera actor Wu Rujun, cultural differences can turn into opportunities for cultural exchanges.
Wu, who lives in Japan, will work with some Japanese Kabuki singers next year to stage Turandot, which blends the music of Peking Opera, Kabuki and even Western opera.
"For me, countries' boundaries don't exist in arts," said the 44-year-old actor at the gala opening of the China-Japan Year of Culture and Sports Exchange in Tokyo last night.
Wu graduated from the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts, and used to play the jinghu (a two-stringed fiddle that accompanies actors in the Peking Opera). He also used to play a dan (female character) in China Peking Opera Theater.
He got married in 1988, and moved to Japan with his Japanese wife the next year. In 2000, he founded the Japan Peking Opera Theater.
Talking yesterday about the years he has spent in Japan, Wu said Japanese culture had influenced his theatrical work, which he categorized as "New Peking Opera."
"Peking Opera is a very masculine art form, but I have learned from Japanese culture to add more sentiment to Peking Opera, in other words, make its music more melodic," he said.
His innovative style may have created a controversy in China, but the Japanese love his work. In fact, Japanese audiences have been moved, at times to tears, by his Peking Opera performances.
When Wu performs in Japan, he tries to weaken Peking Opera's stylistic elements in order to appeal to a wider Japanese audience. For example, he dons make-up that is "closer to daily life," and creates thematic music that suits different roles other than the traditional set tunes.
"Japanese people know Peking Opera is China's national treasure, but most of them still don't know much about it," Wu said. "If we don't do anything to popularize Peking Opera, it'll be very difficult for Japanese audiences to come closer to the art."
Wu has finished five of his "New Peking Opera" productions, and is working on two others. The sixth will be The Countryside, which will have Wu and some performers from Takarazuka Theater of Japan. The production will be on a tour of major Chinese cities in July.
His seventh production, a new version of the Chinese folktale Niulang and Zhinu (The Herd Boy and Weaving Girl), will be a collaboration between China Peking Opera Theater and Beijing Opera and Dance Drama Theater and will debut in September.
Chinese language is integral to Peking Opera, so Wu always sings in Chinese. But while performing in Japan, he has subtitles in Japanese to help the local audience understand the plot.
For next year's Turandot, Wu will try to speak in Japanese for the first time. "I hope my work can attract more Japanese people and make them appreciate Peking Opera and Chinese culture," he said.
But despite all these years as a key Peking Opera performer, Wu hasn't given up his career as a jinghu soloist. His CD, It's For You, was among the top five on Japan's classical CD charts for three months. Now, he keeps touring across Japan and China, both to play in concerts and to perform in the theater.
(China Daily April 12, 2007)