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November 6, 2011

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Peking Opera star's life chronicled

THE legendary Peking Opera star Meng Xiaodong (1908-1977) is remembered for several reasons.

First and foremost, she was extremely talented and often played male roles on stage. And she was also known for her private life. She had an love affair with Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang. After it ended sadly, she later married the famous Shanghai gangster Du Yuesheng.

Meng's life has inspired many adaptations in different genres, and the latest is Peking Opera and singspiel "Meng Xiaodong" by Taiwan's Guoguang Opera company.

As part of the 13th China Shanghai International Arts Festival, the opera will be staged at Yifu Theater on November 11.

"Meng Xiaodong" boasts an A-list cast. Its director Li Xiaoping is a recipient of the prestigious Opera Director Award granted by the China Literature and Art Association.

Wei Hai-ming, a winner of the Plum Blossom Award, the highest honor for a Peking Opera performance in China, will portray Meng. Wei is a specialist in the singing style of old male roles in the Yu Shuyan vocal school.

Legendary actress

Born in 1908, Meng started learning Peking Opera at five years old and made her stage debut two years later. She later learned the opera after Master Yu Shuyan.

In the 1920s her romance with "the king of Peking Opera" Mei came unexpectedly after they collaborated on "Yang Silang Visits His Mother" and "Look For A Star" in Beijing.

Meng played male roles on stage while Mei starred as refined and elegant women.

The two understood each other well and their love story caused a big stir at the time as Mei was already married.

Three years later, the romance between the two ended sadly due to growing social and family pressure. Meng left the Chinese mainland in 1949 with Shanghai gangster Du and died in Hong Kong in 1977 as a wife of Du.

Meng spent all her life preserving and improving the Yu school of vocals. She was famous for her charisma and expressive body language on stage.

Guoguang Opera Company's show tells the story of Meng and the three most important men in her life, fellow performer Mei, gangster Du and her teacher Yu.

Wang An-chi, artistic director from the theater troupe, says the play also shows Meng's devotion to the Yu vocal school. "Generations of artists have been impressed by Meng's perseverance, devotion and indifference to fame and fortune," Wang adds.

Over the past years, the Guoguang Opera Company has made some attempts at presenting Peking Opera interpretations of contemporary novels from noted writers such as Eileen Chang.

On November 12, the troupe's original play "The Endless Night" will also be staged at Yifu Theater. The play depicts a loyal servant's efforts and sacrifice to save his imprisoned master, who is framed for murder.

Date: November 11, 7:15pm

Venue: Yifu Theater

Tickets: 50-500 yuan (US$8-78)

Tel: 6217-2426, 6217-3055


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