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September 25, 2009

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Lavish Kunqu and Peking operas

TWO lavish traditional operas will be performed over the National Day holiday - both ancient tales of love and heroism.

The Kunqu classic "The Palace of Eternal Youth" - about an emperor besotted with his concubine - will be presented on October 1-2 at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center in Pudong.

The new Peking Opera "Guan Yu" - about a noble general - will be presented on October 17-20 at the Yifu Theater on Fuzhou Road.

"The Palace of Eternal Youth" is one of the most celebrated and difficult plays that challenge performers' singing skills and ability to convey emotional complexity.

The extravagant production by the Suzhou Kunqu Opera House will feature gorgeous sets, lavishly embroidered costumes and intriguing stage properties that recreate the ancient Chinese imperial court.

The script by Hong Sheng written in the late 17th century tells of the love of Emperor Xuanzong (AD 685-762) of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) for his imperial concubine Yang Yuhuan.

The emperor was so besotted that he was oblivious to the growing ambitions of General An Lushan, an adopted son of Yang. He neglects his kingdom and people are outraged when his horsemen trample citizens and crops in their quest to bring back lichees for Yang.

There is a rebellion, the emperor flees and Yang commits suicide.

They are reunited in the afterlife.

Directed by Wang Shiyu, a venerated Kunqu Opera master, the show stars young performers Wang Fang and Wang Zhenyi. Oscar-winning Hong Kong designer Timmy Yip designed costumes and sets.

Later in the month, an original Peking Opera performance "Guan Yu" will also be presented. It's the tale of a heroic general under warlord Liu Bei during the Three Kingdoms Period (AD 220-280).

It is directed by Tian Qinxin.

Guan was venerated, even deified, in ancient China for his patriotism, loyalty and courage, and he is still honored by Chinese people today; many temples throughout China are dedicated to him.

"Guan is depicted as a red-faced warrior with a long black beard," says director Tian. "His spirit has influenced many Chinese generations. Our play will show how and why he is deemed a god by so many Chinese people."

In one scene, Guan is captured by another warlord, Cao Cao. He sacrifices his titles and riches for freedom, then rides alone for thousands of kilometers to reunite with his sworn brother Liu Bei.

Veteran Peking Opera artist Guan Dongtian will play the lead role of Guan Yu. In an earlier version of the opera about the general, the hero was played by Peking Opera master Gao Shenglin.

"Gao's depiction of the character was amazing and unparalleled, and this inspires me to do my best," Guan says. "The play is a challenge to both of my physical strength and acting skills."

"Palace of Eternal Youth"

Date: October 1-2, 7:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Oriental Art Center, 425 Dingxiang Rd, Pudong

Tickets: 80-480 yuan

Tel: 400-818-3333, 5108-6048

"Guan Yu"

Date: October 17-20, 7:30pm

Venue: Yifu Theater, 701 Fuzhou Rd

Tickets: 100-580 yuan

Tel: 6322-5294, 6351-4668


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