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March 12, 2010

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Operas get youthful makeover

A FESTIVAL of traditional opera - plus modern innovations and experiments - will be staged this month and in April at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center and Shanghai Grand Theater.

On March 19, the popular Peking Opera "Mu Guiying Takes Command," an ancient legend about seven women generals, will open the month-long series of traditional operas at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center.

Performers from nine major opera houses in the Yangtze River Delta region will perform in the 17-show festival running through April 27. Many of the performances have won awards.

They include the Peking Opera classic "Losing, Empty and Execution," the newly adapted Yueju Opera romance "The Beautiful Lady Yu" and the Huju Opera tragedy "Thunderstorm."

Also featured will be the Huangmei Opera legend "The Female Consort Prince" and the Kunqu Opera comedy "The Story of the Jade Hairpin."

A highlight will be Taiwanese writer/scholar Bai Xianyong's adaptation for younger audiences of the Kunqu Opera classics "The Peony Pavilion" and "The Story of the Jade Hairpin."

Six years ago, Bai was studying at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he spent five months condensing the original 55-scene script of "The Peony Pavilion" by Tang Xianzu.

The 27-scene version tells a tighter story - tragedy and reunion of lovers - and caters to the tastes of a modern audience.

"The Story of the Jade Hairpin," the festival's closing performance, is Bai's latest effort to update a long, complicated story.

The play with the happy ending tells a hilarious story about the love between a young scholar and a Taoist nun. There's lots of mistaken identity and typical jokes included.

"We're seeking all possibilities to rejuvenate the traditional theater," Bai says. "To attract a younger audience, we add spectacular stage settings and costumes to the traditional singing and dancing."

Free lectures on history and the culture of opera will be given by Bai and renowned actors and experts such as Cai Zhengren, Zhang Jingxian, Wu Xingguo and Zhang Jingxian.

The performance and lecture schedule is available at Tickets will be priced from 60 (US$8.80) to 420 yuan. For more details, call 6854-1234.


Meanwhile from April 1 to 24, the Shanghai Grand Theater will stage seven experimental plays in 15 performances covering traditional operas, magic, acrobatics and dance dramas.

The innovative shows include the Yueju Opera "Butterfly Lovers," mythical Peking Opera "Lotus Lantern" and the dance drama "Master Hongyi," presented by troupes from Zhejiang Province.

For example, the award-winning Kunqu Opera "Gongsun Zidu," replete with acrobatics and action scenes, breaks Kunqu Opera traditions that give priority to wenxi, characterized by singing and acting. It about a general plotting an assassination.

Magic, illusion, acrobatics, dance, lasers and multimedia effects will also create an otherworldly Monkey King experience in the new stage play "Monkey King."

Featuring more than 200 sets of costumes and 1,000 stage props, the show will offer a fantastic "Journey to the West" in which the Monkey King and his master Xuan Zang travel to find Buddhist sutras in what is today's India.

The performance schedule is available at, or by calling 6386-8686.


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