Classic Yueju operas seek to widen audience appeal
Yueju Opera fans will be treated to an once-in-a-decade exhibition of Yueju performances at the Shanghai Grand Theater from January 4 to 10.
Seasoned Yueju Opera veterans like Qian Huili, Shan Yangping, Zhao Zhigang, Yang Tingna and Li Xudan will collaborate with up-and-coming performers in the classic musical theaters. Many of them have won major theatrical awards, such as the Plum Performance Award — which honors the country’s highest performing arts — and the Shanghai Magnolia Stage Performance Award.
The last Yueju Opera exhibition with such a star-studded cast took place in Shanghai 10 years ago. A roaring success then, the exhibition presented a series of operas by Plum Performance Award winners from the Shanghai Yueju Opera Troupe.
This time, the troupe will present four Yueju operas: “The Butterfly Lovers,” “A Dream of Red Mansions,” “Family” and “The Legend of Zhen Huan.”
The four spectacular productions featuring lavish scenes and refined acting have a large fan base in the city. They’re also representative productions by the Shanghai Yueju Opera Troupe.
“The Butterfly Lovers” is a tragic love affair between young scholar Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, daughter of a wealthy family. Coming from different social classes and backgrounds, their relationship faces huge obstacles. The opera is often called China’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and is based on the 1953 Yueju Opera film of the same name, the country’s first operatic movie in color. It also marks the first collaboration for Yueju Opera artists Zhang Ruihong and Fang Yafen on a full-length version of the production.
“A Dream of Red Mansions,” adapted from Chinese novelist Cao Xueqin (1715-1763)’s masterpiece, tells the tale of the rise and fall of a large feudal family during the 18th century and the tragic romance between Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu. It will be staged in a simplified version starring Qian Huili (Jia Baoyu), Shan Yangping (Lin Daiyu) and Wang Wanna. With exquisite costumes and a range of vocal styles, the opera was a big sensation when it debuted in 1999. To date, Qian and Shan have performed it more than 1,000 times.
“Family” is adapted from the first volume of Ba Jin’s famous trilogy “Jiliu,” or “Torrent.” The Yueju version has received high praise from the writer’s daughter Li Xiaolin. It portrays the conflicts and crises of the Gao family in the wake of rapid social transformation, and features renowned Yueju Opera performer Zhao Zhigang.
Inspired by a popular online novel and its successful TV adaptation, Yueju “The Legend of Zhen Huan” has been a hit with audiences, and staged more than 20 times since 2015. The play centers on concubine Zhen Huan, who survives palace intrigue and manages to become the empress dowager, a title given to the mother of the emperor — generally recognized to be of higher status than the emperor, but at the expense of her true love and first baby.
According to the exhibition’s organizer, the four productions bear the fruit of Yueju’s evolution over the past several decades. They cater to a diverse audience from traditional opera fans to white-collars and college students. Modern stagecraft and contemporary versions of classical songs will be incorporated into the productions’ sets and scores to turn young people on to opera.
Liang Hongjun, director of the Shanghai Yueju Opera Troupe, said the exhibition was postponed for six months due to the pandemic, and it is a rare opportunity to assemble such an all-star cast to deliver the best of Yueju operas.
Dates: January 4-10, 7:15pm
Tickets: 80-680 yuan
Venue: Shanghai Grand Theater
Address: 300 People’s Avenue
Telephone: 6386 8686