Beauty is forever

09:04, April 09, 2010      

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A scene from opera Xi Shi. (Photo: China Daily)

NCPA's first opera, Xi Shi, has been a great success and will open the theater's upcoming Opera Festival. Chen Jie reports

East and West have many things in common. Westerners know Helen was "the face that launched a thousand ships" and set off the Trojan War. China has the legend of Xi Shi, who was so beautiful that when she washed silk in a stream even the fish looked away. Xi Shi helped her country win a war.

About 494 BC, the King of Yue was imprisoned after being defeated by the State of Wu, and Yue became a dependent state. Secretly planning revenge, Yue's minister Wen Zhong suggested training beautiful women to seduce the King of Wu. Minister Fan Li found Xi Shi and Zheng Dan and gifted them to the King of Wu.

Bewitched by the two beauties, the King of Wu forgot all about State affairs and killed his best advisor and general, who tried to persuade him not to indulge in women and pleasure. The State of Wu dwindled and in 473 BC the King of Yue launched his strike and put the Wu army to rout. The King of Wu committed suicide.

Last year, the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) commissioned a team of leading artists to adapt this tale into the opera Xi Shi, which premiered in October.

"It is a rare good example of telling a typical Chinese legend for a Western opera," says playwright Zhou Ling, whose credits include the popular TV production of Chinese classic A Dream of Red Mansions.

"A Western art form must have Chinese content, and must combine in smart ways, explaining that this is the only way it can survive in China. The opera Xi Shi is a good example in this sense," Zhou says.

"This opera Xi Shi amazed me," says actor Zhang Tielin. "You can figure out some Chinese tunes but they are combined well in the overall composition. Zou Jingzhi's lyrics read like poems. Soprano Zhang Liping is wonderful."

It is the NCPA's first opera production since it opened in 2007. Deng Yijiang, deputy-president of NCPA says, it took time to decide on the story.

"Through operas we've known many famous women, from Carmen to Turandot, from Cio Cio San to Tosca. Now we want to introduce to the world a legendary Chinese woman," Deng says.

For its first opera the NCPA gathered A-listers including composer Lei Lei, playwright Zou Jingzhi and soprano Zhang Liping.

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