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Superstar of Yue Opera: Mao Weitao

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

16:10, July 03, 2013

(China Daily)

Mao Weitao could have rested on laurels, but she is willing to take risks to keep her art form relevant and resonating with audiences. She not only loves Yue Opera but also wants to expand its appeal, writes Raymond Zhou.

German playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) never set foot in China, and he mistook Sichuan province for a city when he wrote The Good Person of Szechwan. Now his classic play about the difficulty of doing good while everyone gets busy doing well is reincarnated as a Chinese opera - but set in another part of China. Not only does the story fit the locale perfectly, but also it has become a star vehicle for an artist who has specialized in transgender roles throughout her career - similar to trouser roles in Italian opera. When Mao Weitao makes an entrance as the female Shen Teh, there is a frisson of excitement in the audience. It is the first time Mao, superstar of Yue Opera, has ever played a role in her own gender. And what a gorgeous and feminine portrayal!

Of course, Mao gets to impersonate the alter ego of Shen Teh, her invented cousin Shui Ta, the ruthless young man. The onstage gender reversals go beyond a plot device and reach a rare transcendence where the performer-character duality is blurred into a surreal totality. A female star who plays only male parts now takes on a female role who often passes as a man. It is somewhat like Viola in Shakespeare in Love who disguises herself as a man to play a woman in a no-girls-allowed stage culture.

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