The "Unexpected Promotion" (Liansheng Sanji) tells how a rural scholar gets promoted at the imperial court. In the story, there is a popular one-person xiangsheng (crosstalk) and a repertoire of Gaojia Opera that are famous for the clowns performances.
Now the Beijing Peking Opera Theatre has made the tale into a Peking Opera production and will perform it at the Grand Chang'an Theatre on February 9 to 12.
The story is adapted by playwright Xu Ying whose credits include Peking Opera play "The Hunchback Prime Minister" and the coming Metropolitan Opera production "Emperor Qin Shihuang." Directed by Zhang Yimou, and with music composed by Tan Dun, it will star Placido Domingo. The opera will premier in New York in 2006.
In the "Promotion," Xu turns the rascal into a poor scholar in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), who has been mentally tortured by the imperial examination system.
In order to comfort him, his wife Chi Menghua pays for a fortune-teller to convince Zhang that he will succeed this year before he goes to the capital to take the imperial examinations.
At the capital Zhang chances upon the powerful chief eunuch Wei Zhongxian, who is drunk and thinks Zhang is talented.
The two chief examiners, believing Zhang is Wei's relative, make Zhang Number One Scholar and compete to marry their daughters to Zhang.
Zhang wants to marry both ladies as concubines. He divorces his wife Chi and drives her out of his mansion. In revenge, Chi schemes to battle against Zhang.
She has the fortune-teller write a couplet to expose Wei's ambition to usurp power and passes off the couplet to Wei as a gift at his birthday in the name of Zhang.
Wei is so irritated that he sentences Zhang to death. However, at the execution ground, Zhang is set free because Wei's conspiracy is brought to light and the Emperor promotes Zhang three ranks as he thinks he is an upright and honest person.
The veteran theatre director Lin Zhaohua directs the comedy very differently from the Gaojia Opera version.
"Gaojia Opera is a genre famous for choujue (the clown roles). In the 'Unexpected Promotion,' all the characters, no matter positive, kindhearted and humorous or negative, crafty, malicious or silly, are acted by chou, marked by a dab of white on the ridge of the noses, except for two female roles," says Lin.
"But in our version, we try to have different types of roles of Peking Opera on stage, after discussions with the playwright and the composer. The clown is funny but it does not mean that other kinds of roles could not be ironic."
He suggests that it would be more cynical when the role sheng, which usually presents the positive male, does something ridiculous or stupid.
Zhu Qiang and Gao Tong will perform the two chief examiners. It is a great challenge for them as they are used to playing straight men not portraying such strange characters.
In addition, the clowns still play some important parts in the production. They are Ma Zengshou as the fortune-teller and Huang Baixue and Zhou Pu as servants of the chief examiners.
Another actor who you should watch out for is Hu Wenge who will play Zhang's wife.
Peking Opera had a tradition that male actors would perform the female roles, women seldom performed in theatre. However, it seldom happens nowadays and Hu is one of the few actors who still acts female roles.
Source: China Daily