(Photo: China Daily)
A new remake of Peking Opera classic Farewell My Concubine is expected to premiere for opera lovers in Beijing in late May.
A representative opera piece of the late Chinese theater mogul Mei Lanfang, Farewell My Concubine tells a love story based on the legend of Xiang Yu - the warlord of the ancient Chu Kingdom - and his beloved consort Yu. Xiang lost a battle for the throne, and Yu committed suicide with his sword.
Zhang Huoding, one of the most popular Peking Opera stars in today's China, will take the opera makeover to the stage of the Chang'an Grand Theater on May 25, as the closing show of this year's Meet in Beijing international arts festival. Celebrated Peking Opera artist Gao Mukun will star as Xiang Yu.
For 48-year-old Zhang, it's a dream come true.
"It's always been my dream to play concubine Yu since I was learning Peking Opera in Tianjin in the 1980s, but I didn't get the chance," Zhang said at a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday. "I look forward to it very much and I hope the audience will like it."
Zhang is an inheritor of the "Cheng School" of Peking Opera, a performing style founded by Cheng Yanqiu (1904-58), one of the great Peking Opera masters of the 20th century. While Mei Lanfang's "Mei School" is famous for his smooth, moderate and poised style in playing elegant female roles, Cheng style is known for interpreting tragic women with frequent changes in sounds and rhythm.
Though Farewell My Concubine has long been a masterpiece of the Mei School, Wan Ruixing, renowned Peking Opera composer and player of the jinghu (a high-pitched two-stringed fiddle used in Peking Opera), said the Cheng School's sorrowful tunes and slow rhythm also could be a decent interpretation of concubine Yu's tragic fate.
"There are more tragedies in the Cheng School's plays and the character of Yu and her deep sorrow in the legendary story meet very well with the features of the Cheng School," said Wan, who is also responsible for the new play's method of singing tunes.
A former actress from the China National Peking Opera Company, Zhang has performed in sellout shows across China, including a solo show at the Great Hall of the People in 2007. In 2015, Zhang made her US debut at Lincoln Center in New York by performing two famous Peking Opera pieces, The Legend of the White Snake and The Jewelry Pouch. She now spends much of her time teaching Peking Opera at the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts, one of the top academies of traditional Chinese operas, to pass on the ancient art to younger generations.
Peking Opera is a 200-year-old Chinese theater art dating back to the 18th century, which combines speech, song, dance and martial arts. In 2010, UNESCO inscribed it as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.