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New opera era

By  Zhang Yiqian (Global Times)

09:03, February 01, 2013


The colorful dresses, flags and painted faces of Peking opera will soon make an appearance on the silver screen.

In the first ever government-sponsored project of its kind, about 10 classic Peking operas are set to become films over the next three years, starting with Longfeng Chengxiang and Bawang Bieji later this year. A panel of experts from the field of Peking opera have gathered since last year to pick out operas, edit screenplays and finalize the casts.

"We are trying to capture the complete charm of Peking opera on film, trying to stick to the original vision as well as trying to make it artistic on stage," said Song Guanlin, president of the China National Peking Opera Company.

Song explained that the Beijing-based China National Peking Opera Company and the Shanghai Jingju Company are in charge of making Longfeng Chengxiang and Bawang Bieji, respectively, and will invite famous senior Peking opera singers back on stage to perform for the movies.

Longfeng Chengxiang tells the story of a political marriage between warlord Liu Bei (161-223) and the sister of warlord Sun Quan (282-252), who occupied different lands in the Three Kingdoms era (220-280) in ancient Chinese history. Sun, who is dissatisfied that Liu occupies Jingzhou (now Hubei and Hunan provinces), lures Liu to his own city and marries his sister to Liu in order to trick him and win the land back.

However, Liu's inner circle, who sees right through Sun's scheme, comes up with a counterattack that returns Liu and his new bride to Jingzhou, leaving Sun without his land or his sister.

Bawang Bieji spins a historical tale as well. It portrays the death of the concubine of Xiang Yu (232BC-202 BC) during the final battle of his life. Xiang, who was a political rival to Liu Bang (256BC-195BC) and fought to take control of the country, loses to Liu during the fierce battle at Gaixia (now in Anhui Province). On the eve of the battle, Xiang drinks with the concubine, Yu, who doesn't want to be a burden to Xiang and later on kills herself in front of Xiang.

These two operas were chosen because they are well-known to the public and can best represent Peking opera, Song said.

"For example, Longfeng Chengxiang has many characters, and they include the four main roles of Peking opera - the male, female, painted face and clown. It fully shows the charm of Peking opera," he said.

Zhang Guanzheng, the deputy director of the Peking Opera Research Institute at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts, said besides the casting, all the operas picked to be filmed are colorful in story content and well-known to the public because of certain music and lyrics.

He said filming the operas isn't the same as recording the performances. Lots of preparation had to be done to make the plays suitable for the big screen.

"We edited the screenplay," he said. "Some of the old operas can go on for more than three hours. The audience today has changed viewing habits now and three hours is too long for them … so we deleted some scenes and lyrics on the grounds that it doesn't affect the main story plot, especially the well-known parts."

For example in the original version of Bawang Bieji, the main characters, Xiang and Yu, don't appear until the third scene. The team of experts shortened the play and had the characters appear at the beginning to emphasize their conflict, Zhang said.

"Our goal for doing this is to have older audiences accept our changes and to attract young and new audiences," he said. "It's important that we get young people interested."

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