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Tale of pirates in old Hong Kong

THE legendary pirate king Zhang Baozai is the star of a new opera to be staged in Shanghai. He is compared to the commercial city of Hong Kong itself. Nie Xin reports.

A legendary pirate who terrorized China's southern coast and hid out in Hong Kong caves will be celebrated in the new chamber opera "The Legend of Zhang Baozai."

The life of the buccaneer businessman is compared with the development of Hong Kong itself.

The performance, including dance, by Musica Viva Hong Kong will be staged at the Shanghai Grand Theater on August 20-21.

It will be performed in Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles.

The life of the famous old character of the early 19th century will premiere in Shanghai as part of Hong Kong's cultural contributions to the World Expo.

The opera featuring a variety of styles will include scenes and dances from traditional festivals.

The tale of Zhang, from youth to old age, is very much a tale of old Hong Kong, and the show will be filled with colors and customs of the city.

Zhang led a band of pirates whose fleet of ships plundered the coast of southern China and captured other cargo vessels at sea.

"His legend is a symbol of the prosperous pirating business and also brings together many historic aspects of Hong Kong," said the opera's artistic director Lo King-man.

In today's Hong Kong, Zhang's legend lives on in the Zhang Baozai Cave on Cheung Chau Island, where the pirates hid, and the Tin Hau Temple at Ma Wan.

"The knowledgeable Shanghai audience will recognize the artistic intent to stimulate, educate and give pleasure," Lo said.

When the writer, Mandu Cheung, suggested a story about Zhang Baozai, Lo was immediately supportive. Chris Shum wrote the lyrics.

"Zhang Baozai was almost the only person who was representative of Hong Kong in the past," Lo said, "Personally I think Zhang is the perfect symbol. Before the British came, Lin Zexu (an honorable official who fought the opium trade) was a legendary figure, but he was not from Hong Kong and the opium was not destroyed in Hong Kong but in Humen Town."

For an opera veteran like Lo, staging such a show is a brand-new challenge.

"Whether or not we succeed, this performance will be an important step in the development of opera performance in Hong Kong and will inspire more artistic creativity."

Altogether 46 artists, designers and technical personnel from Hong Kong will travel to Shanghai to stage the performance, including eight singers, eight dancers and nine musicians.

Composer Lo Hau-man will conduct.

Musica Viva Hong Kong was established by a group of performing artists and musicians, mostly graduates of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, which is also the group's patron and partner.

Lo called the World Expo a perfect platform for the opera about old Hong Kong.

"The time of pirates was a necessary transitional period for Hong Kong to evolve from being a fishing village to what it is today.?The Expo lets cities explain their unique characters to the world, so our performance will show something uniquely Hong Kong."

The performance will include festive traditional customs in dance movements, including the Lantern Festival, Cantonese opera puppet, the Bun festival on Buddha's birthday and the Fire Dragon at the Moon Festival.

"I insisted on using modern dance that expresses Oriental cultures as links between the acts," said Lo. "The customs depicted may be found in other parts of the world, but they are nowhere as popular as they are in Hong Kong."

The music is an original composition in contemporary style combining the Western classical approach with strong Chinese musical idiom, rhythmic patterns and tone-colors.

The opera will be staged in September in Hong Kong.


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