Renowed actress shines in Mendelssohn's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
"Be brave," said 70-year-old Sylvia Chang when asked for advice by young people. "And take on challenges, be it work or romance."
It was two days before the well-acclaimed Taiwan screenwriter, director and actress crossed into classical music to lend her voice to 14 different roles as narrator in Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
The collaboration with Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, featuring two performances over the weekend, had many impressed by Chang's vibrant energy and incredible vocal performance portraying characters ranging from an elf to donkey.
"I knew little about classic music when I first tried this back in 2016," Chang recalled.
"I took the intriguing challenge because I love live performance on the stage. I have always valued vocal performances and encouraged young actors and actresses to pay more attention to that. This piece is so much fun and not outdated, serious or remote at all, as some people may view classic music."
Quite to the contrary, many audience members, even those unfamiliar with classical music, may recognize some of the melodies, or at least the Wedding March after the end of Act IV.
"How funny, two of the most famous wedding marches in the world, including this one, were both written by Germans, not commonly considered the most romantic," Yu Long, artistic director of the symphony orchestra, joked.
"It's a great occasion to work with Sylvia," he added. "I grew up watching her movies and I was amazed by how she portrayed all these different roles with voice on the stage. It's a very youthful and fun piece to enjoy, after all, Mendelssohn was only 17 years old when he started composing it."
The performance presents the Shakespeare play as a version of single narrative, with the original German libretto translated and rearranged into Chinese by classical music critic Chiao Yuan-pu.
In Chiao's own words, the rearrangement "feature all of Mendelssohn's music for the play in its entirety, without leaving out any of the plot, by condensing the lines and passages."
Chang is particularly cheerful to be back in Shanghai, a city she visited frequently and performed on stage quite often just before the pandemic, starring in the stage drama "Liaozhai ― Why We Chat."
With a career spanning more than 50 years in over 100 films, she has been awarded twice with Best Actress and Best Screenplay, respectively, at Hong Kong Film Awards. Chang became Best Actress and won lifetime achievement award in Asian Film Awards in 2018 and most recently this year, she is nominated again for Best Actress for the ongoing Hong Kong Film Awards and Asian Film Awards with "A Light Never Goes Out."
The film is another labor of love for Chang, in her support of young female talents. "A Light Never Goes Out" is the feature debut of young director Anastasia Tsang.