Foreigners like to watch 'bilingual' Peking opera

Photo:Foreign friends happily try on the stage costume as dressed by Liu Bei in the opera
Foreign friends happily try on the stage costume as dressed by Liu Bei in the opera "Prosperity Brought by the Dragon and the Phoenix".
On the evening of April 1, the Beijing Chang'an Theater shrouded in hazy spring rain was full of affection as a Peking opera was staged there.

The theater welcomed in a group of special spectators: More than one hundred foreign friends. Some of them are correspondents stationed in Beijing and their families from 11 countries, including Indonesia, Italy, Germany, Qatar, Spain, Malaysia, Cuba, Turkey and Pakistan, some are foreign students studying Chinese language and culture at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, as well as foreign tourists hosted by travel services.

What's more surprising is that the list of Peking operas previously staged for foreign friends were usually either "Stealing Fairy Grass", "Picking Up Jade Bracelet", or the "Fork in a Road", and "Creating an Uproar in the Heavenly Palace", all these were basically highlights from operas featuring acrobatic fighting and fairy tales, but this time, the Beijing Peking Opera Theater staged for foreigners the "Prosperity Brought by the Dragon and the Phoenix", a Chinese opera characterized by singing and acting. To help foreign friends overcome language barriers, English captions were used in the performance from libretto to the spoken parts, thus making the performance a "bilingual" Peking opera worthy of the name.

"Prosperity Brought by the Dragon and the Phoenix" was derived from the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Wei, Shu Han and Wu)", it tells the story that naval governor Zhou Yu of Eastern Wu and Sun Quan played the trick of a sex-trap, they used Sun Quan's younger sister Sun Shangxiang as the "bait" to delude Liu Bei into crossing the river to take the bride, in their attempt to retain Liu as hostage and get back Jingzhou, but Zhuge Liang thought up a plan to ask Zhou Yu's father-in-law Qiao Xuan to persuade Sun Quan's mother Wu Guotai to promise the marriage, which turned pretence into reality, as a result, Zhou Yu lost his wife and suffered heavy casualties.

According to Wang Yuzhen, president of the Beijing Peking Opera Theater, Beijing Peking Opera Theater and the Liyuan Theater in Qianmen have jointly put on special Peking opera performances for foreign friends for 15 years, but the list of operas staged were more often than not limited to monkey show and acrobatic fighting, making it hard for foreign guests to have a full view of Peking opera and to savor the implicative cultural essence of the Chinese nation, some foreign friends even get a one-sided notion that Peking opera means acrobatic fighting and the only leading character is Monkey King.

It is out of a sense of responsibility that this time the Beijing Opera Theater attempts to create a new edition of the traditional classic list of operas flavor by retaining the original arias but with a more compact structure of plots, so that foreign friends can have a more profound and comprehensive understanding of Peking opera and traditional Chinese culture.

President Wang said that this opera is complete with "sheng" (leading characters), "tan" (female), "jing" (character with painted face), and "chou" (clown), and with singing, chanting, acting and dancing, which is the rib of an old opera and gives a concentrated show to the characteristic of the art beauty of Peking opera, furthermore, foreign friends can, through the plots and story, get to know the humor and wisdom of the Chinese.

How about the effect of such "bilingual" Peking opera? When the reporter enjoyed the "Prosperity Brought by the Dragon and the Phoenix" together with foreign guests, he discovered that in the process of the nearly two-hour performance, foreign friends not only comprehended this play with many characters and intricate tales, but also were watching it with great interest.

Shen Wenli who acted the role of Wu Guotai; Yang Shaopeng, of Liu Bei; Shang Wei, of Sun Shangxiang won the repeated applauses with the pleasing quality of their arias, the plots about how Sun Quan with "purple beards" and a painted face puffs and glares at Qiao Xuan with "white beards", and about how dignified and graceful Sun Shangxiang in the bridal chamber greets Liu Bei with swords and spears put in place beforehand which makes panic-stricken Liu Bei dare not enter the bridal chamber - foreign friends showed keen interest in them. As soon as Zhao Yun full of heroic spirit and valiant general Zhang Fei decked up as a fisherman and wearing a smile appeared on the stage, they drew repeated flash of light and a string of clicking of cameras.

Sitting beside the reporter was an Italian girl studying in the Foreign Studies University, she has been in China for only three months and so still can't fully understand the Chinese language. She watched the opera with interest while reading the captions, took photos unceasingly and applauded heartily from time to time.

When asked whether she felt the story to be a big too long, and whether she felt tired, she said with an enchanting smile: the performance was fascinating and she did not feel tired at all. Although she did not know the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", a famous traditional Chinese literary work, she told the reporter, this was the first time she appreciated Peking opera, after reading the captions in English, she was fully able to get a general idea of the plot; she liked to hear the "singing" as well as to see the "acrobatic fighting", when opportunity comes she would definitely come again to see such a "bilingual" Peking opera once more.

Li Jianjun, translator of "Prosperity Brought by the Dragon and the Phoenix", and the "back stage hero" who enabled foreign friends to comprehend Peking opera, is a young teacher at the English School of the Beijing Foreign Studies University. He translated the title of the "Prosperity Brought by the Dragon and the Phoenix" into the "Marriage between the Dragon and the Phoenix", which is appropriate and direct, his translation of the libretto and spoken parts is basically in the same style of the opera title, which is concise and accurate.

The reason why he became closely related to the Beijing Peking Opera Theater was because one of his colleagues is an amateur performer of Peking opera, his colleague thought that Li likes Peking opera and is an outstanding student and Master degree graduate from Peking University, so he served as a bridge between the Peking Opera Theater and Li, within only two weeks' time, Li Jianjun who knows a little about the basic knowledge of Peking opera rendered the libretto and spoken parts of the "Prosperity Brought by the Dragon and the Phoenix" into English, giving this 150-160-year-old traditional Peking opera a fitting foreign clothing.

Li Jianjun realized from the very beginning that translating the "Prosperity Brought by the Dragon and the Phoenix" he himself was engaged in was an "original" work for which there were basically no available materials and experiences to draw on. He said as he began translating, the greatest difficulties he met with were the small size of the rectangular captions frame and the limitation of the singing and chanting time, so he had to grasp the main or key points of the libretto and spoken parts of the opera and express the very rich contents in the sentence with very concise English words; additionally, considering the degree of foreigners' understanding and acceptance of Chinese culture, he must make his choice regarding the abstruse contents in traditional Chinese culture.

With regard to the positive response given by foreigners on the spot, Li modestly said he felt that there were still many shortcomings in his English translation, he just gave the general ideas and could not properly express the literary meaning of traditional Chinese opera, so in this regard there is still much room for revision and improvement.

It is reported that the Beijing Peking Opera Theater will stage a series of classical traditional operas such as the "White Snakes" and the "Blue Water Celestial" in near future, the days are not far off when foreign friends will have an opportunity to feast their eyes with Chinese Peking opera.

By People's Daily Online

People's Daily Online ---