Friday, July 29, 2005

Liyuan Opera: "Mr. Dong And Miss Lee"

I was very excited when I got home today and saw a parcel left on my table. Just days ago I've placed an internet order for this Liyuan Opera DVD called "Dong Sheng Yu Li Shi" (translated as "Mr. Dong and Miss Lee" on the cover) and to my suprise it arrived very fast.

Liyuan opera of Fujian province is one of China's oldest form of Chinese opera, alongside with Puxian opera (also from Fujian province) and Kun opera (more popular in the north). Liyuan opera is well-known for having a set of unique body movements and hand gestures, as well as relatively well-preserved scripts dated from as far as Song dynasty. Quanzhou City Liyuan Opera Troupe, the troupe which performed this show in the DVD, is the only professional troupe performing this genre of opera left in China. This show is actually one of their old shows, but had given it a facelift last year and had been given rather good critics for it. Although I have seen Liyuan Opera shows before and liked them alot, this DVD is nothing like the previous shows I've watched. First, the scenograpghy is simply breathtaking. Designed and conceptualised by Xiamen's up and coming Huang Yongying, the stage looked simple and elegant. The lighting was vibrant and nicely done, giving the stage a very poetic and ancient feel. Not forgetting the new costumes and hair accessories made for this show, which gives the show a modern touch. Visual sensations aside, the story is equally captivating. This show is about a young and beautiful Miss Lee who became a widow after her old and fraile husband, Squire Peng, passed away. Before his death, Squire Peng asked his neighbour, middle-aged schoolteacher Mr. Dong, to spy on his wife for any signs of adultery and report to him at his grave once a month. As time went by, Mr. Dong and Miss Lee somehow got attracted to each other, and after much hesitation, they finally decided to be together, and admit their love for each other at Squire Peng's grave. The entire show is filled with wittiness, making it more fun to watch. From Mr. Dong being scolded as being a "ass following dog" to Miss Lee pretending to be engaged in sweet-talks with an imaginery "suitor" when she found out that Mr. Dong was eavesdoping by the wall, and to the climax of the show whereby Mr. Dong finally gathered all his might to scold back at Squire Peng's ghost at his grave, making Squire Peng's ghost retreat back to his grave crying and resign to fate that his wife was going to remarry. Although I had been a fan of Liyuan Opera, I never imagine that it could be so interesting and full of humour!

It is an eye-opener watching this show, and I am glad that I managed to own this DVD. I hope Quanzhou City Liyuan Opera Troupe can release more of their shows on DVD in future, so as to let more people have the chance to appreciate the finest in Chinese opera.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Wealthy Temple!

There's no rehearsal for today although it is a Saturday. Just four days ago, we had a performance at this temple off Jalan Bahar to mark the birthday celebration on the temple God, and today is the final day of the celebration, which ended with a dinner gala that we had to attend.

Usually for temple celebration dinners, there will always be an auctioning session as well, and whoever win any of these items on bid will be blessed with good fortune or wealth, or maybe both. This dinner gala is of no exception, but what took me by surprise was that the closing bid for the first three items (religious offerings) were over $10000. I have attended many of such dinners, but so far I have yet seen such high bids.

Throughout the night, many items on bid were closed with bidding amounts more than a few thousands, even though the market price of these items are usually less than a fraction of the amount. A troupe member remarked that perhaps in future we could turn to the temple for sponsorship; to them $10000 is almost like a small amount of money! That is something we could work out, I guess, but it will have to depend on whether the temple is willing to support Chinese opera, and also if my troupe leader is willing to approach the temple!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Religious Play @ Chinese Temple

Today is a very special occasion as our Chinese opera troupe had a performance at a temple in Jalan Bahar. What's special about today's performance is that it is religious in nature, meaning it was to be acted as part of a religious ceremony for the Gods. This was the time time we were tasked to do such shows, and the show we were told to act was "The Eight Immortals".

Initially it seemed easy to us, other than having to write the script and music from scratch, but after the temple representative vetted our rehearsal, we were told that we had to be very solemn throughout the performance. That was though, many of our members thought, as on the Chinese opera stage, the Eight Immortals were perceived as eight carefree immortals of different backgrounds, always merry and cheerful. Hence the moment we stepped into the temple compund, we kept all our smiles and playfulness. In fact after the show, one of our members commented that we were all very solemn and stern-faced during the performance! Well, we were just following the temple's instructions, and according to their Taoist beliefs.

Actually the temple is not wrong to demand us of that, because we were so-called the "ambassedors" of these Immortals, and it is our duty to portray them correctly. The temple representative gave an example of the God of Wealth, and how he has been badly portrayed by commercialism. The God of Wealth is supposed to be a high-ranking God in which Taoist believers pay respect to, but nowadays during Chinese New Years, we see clownish-looking actors dressing up as God of Wealth, going around in shopping centres and public places shaking hands with members of the public and giving out "blessings". "What will the younger generation think if all our Gods were portrayed like that? 'Oh! So the Taoist Gods are all like that, wouthout any awe!'" Sounds logical to me, but then that also means that in future if we were to take on temple shows again, we have to be extra careful with what we do; we have to look from the temple's perspective and not from our own artistic perspective.