Peking Opera Guan Sheng to wow Expo crowd

Editor:People's Daily| Resource:People's Daily

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The Peking Opera Guan Sheng, the latest production by revered director Tian Qinxin, is all set to dazzle audiences at the Yi Fu Theater in Shanghai, starting February 17 and running through the end of the upcoming Shanghai Expo.
The Peking Opera Guan Sheng, the latest production by revered director Tian Qinxin, is all set to dazzle audiences at the Yi Fu Theater in Shanghai, starting February 17 and running through the end of the upcoming Shanghai Expo.

Operas portray Guan Sheng as a loyal hero.

Featuring magnificent stage design and the strong cast of the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe, the production attempts to restore the glamor of the ancient theatical vibe through modern interpretation.

"Peking Opera, a splendid Chinese theatrical form, came into being during the prime time of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It's also a time when show business prospered," explained director Tian Qinxin. "The play Guan Sheng is a cultural adventure from the Qing Dynasty, a revival of Peking Opera at its heyday."

The legend of Guan Sheng

Known for his loyalty and righteous virtues, Guan Sheng (more commonly known as Guan Yu) is one of the most worshipped historical figures in Chinese-speaking communities across the world.

He was a heroic general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the Three Kingdoms (220-280), and his true-life experiences are recounted in many literary works, most famously in the novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by the Ming Dynasty author Luo Guanzhong.

The five-part play Guan Sheng features Guan Yu's classical stories, including "Taking the Oath of Fraternity in the Peach Garden," "Entering and Withdrawing from the Enemy's Encampment," "Crossing Five Passes and Slaying Six Generals," "Releasing Cao Cao at Huarong Trail" and "Becoming a Deity."

"The play Guan Sheng is a commission by the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe for the 2010 World Exposition," explained director Tian. "It's tailormade for veteran Peking Opera actor Guan Dongtian, who is famous for his powerful voice and handsome stage image."

"It's the only Peking Opera production dedicated to Guan Sheng since the Cultural Revolution, when many classical repertoires were lost," Tian added. "You'll see moral values, like loyalty and righteousness, that are fundamen-tal to the Chinese people brought back to life by Guan Sheng. We'd also like to take the opportunity of the World Expo to promote Chinese culture."

One highlight of the play is Guan Yu's make-up. "Guan Yu is usually portraited as a red-faced warrior with a long black beard, clad in heavy armor," said Tian. "But in this play, we tried to lighten the red mask at the beginning. As the plot develops, a staff member will add color to Guan Yu's face on stage, signifying the evolvement of his emotional and spiritual world. A movement of god-making will be generated in the theater."

Homage to the Qing Dynasty

"Most modern productions of Peking Opera are simplied in terms of stage design, costumes and musical arrangement," Tian said. "Guan Sheng is a representation of Peking Opera in its most complicated form."

An elaborately painted pottery screen was designed by the creative mind of Timmy Yip (artistic director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), featuring dragons, auspicious clouds and various historical figures.

"For example, charactors like the warlord Liu Bei and his brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei will appear on the stage on a revolving pottery wall which has the portraits of these figures painted on it," explained Tian. He added, "There are many scenarios in the play which were inspired by the video game of the Three Kingdoms."

The costume design was inspired by original Qing Dynasty theater garments exhibited in a museum. "However, we highlighted the colors of the costumes to give them a modern look and also to appeal to a younger audience," said costume designer Zhao Yan.

With dazzling 3D technology and advanced lightening effects, Guan Sheng will transform the theater into a mobile museum.

"What's interesting about Guan Sheng is that it breaks away from the conventional stage set of one table and two chairs," said Mu Mu, an editor in her 20s who was among the audience members at its October premiere. "I'm overwhelmed by the tri-dimensional and magnificent stage effects of the play.

Peking Opera: Chinese rock'n'roll

"I always think that Peking Opera has the spirit of rock music," commented director Tian. "It features resounding, catchy tunes, and the theater generates heat when the audience applauds."

"To that end, the music score of the play was rearranged," added Tian. "Removing some of the lengthy percussion accompaniments, we sped up the rhythm of Peking Opera."

"I feel the adapted aria of Guan Sheng is rather smooth and vibrant," commented the lead actor Guan Dongtian. "In the past, theater featuring Guan Yu was usually serious and tedious. The new play infuses cross talk, which makes it fun to watch. I'm glad to see more young viewers in the audience than old ones, which is rare for Peking Opera."

English subtitles will be available to bridge the language gap with foreign viewers who are expected during the World Expo. "I've seen foreign audiences who were captivated by the glamourous visual effects," Tian noted. "To some extent, Guan Sheng is like a grand Chinese musical, bridging different cultures through the ancient art form of Peking Opera."

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