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September 27, 2011

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East-meets-West in Forbidden City

A modern and innovative Peking Opera tells the story, sometimes in English, of Western-educated "princess" Der Ling and the Empress Dowager Cixi in the Forbidden City.

"The Forbidden City in Dawn Light" will be staged on October 10 and 11 at the Shanghai Grand Theater. It follows the success of another innovative Peking Opera, the symphonic "Female Generals of the Yang Family."

The production by the China National Peking Opera House is an adaptation of the stage drama, "Princess Der Ling and Empress Dowager Cixi." It's based on the book "Two Years in the Forbidden City," written in 1911 by Der Ling, translator and first lady-in-waiting who told Cixi about wonders such as the steam engine, locomotive, telephone and camera.

While the new show retains the traditional vocals, gestures and costumes of Peking Opera, modern orchestral music and new stage elements are incorporated.

"It will be a new and memorable experience for the audience who may be bored with stereotypical performance style," says Hong Kong director Fredric Mao.

It is set during the period when China was closed to the West and centers on the relationship between old and conservative Cixi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and young Der Ling, who grew up in Europe, lived in Paris and studied dance with Isadora Duncan. She was actually a translator and first lady-in-waiting, but she called herself princess, which stirred some controversy.

In the Peking Opera, the two women with different personalities meet at a historical moment, the eve of the Revolution of 1911, which ended the Qing Dynasty.

The actress, like Der Ling, speaks English in two long dialogues with the wife of the top Russian official to the Qing court.

Yuan Huiqin, who plays the empress dowager, says the play reveals many unknown facets of Cixi, one of the most powerful women ever in Chinese history.

"It shows the female politician's complicated emotions, her weakness and pain in running the country and in dealing with various relationships," Yuan says. "Peking Opera is strict and sometimes stereotyped, but this show requires the actress to be very open."

Zhang Zhe, director of Shanghai Grand Theater, says more innovative traditional Chinese operas are planned to appeal to young people.

Date: October 10-11, 7:15pm

Address: 300 People's Ave

Tickets: 50-480 yuan

Tel: 6386-8686

With both English and Chinese subtitles


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