Feature: French theater director's 20-year ties with Chinese operas

(Xinhua) 16:36, January 22, 2024

PARIS, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- French theater director Patrick Sommier has been devoted to passing on the true meaning of Chinese operas which, according to him, are the assembly of all art forms, to the French public.

On the occasion of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France in 2004, Sommier was invited to collaborate on a joint project with the Beijing Vocational College of Opera and Arts (BVCOA) to perform Beijing Opera in France.

Sommier told Xinhua that when he arrived in China, like many others in Europe, he listed "plenty of cliches about Chinese opera: magnificent costumes, multicolored make-up, extraordinary acrobatic movements..."

Unexpectedly, the beauty of Beijing Opera "quickly" captured his heart, he said. Recalling his collaboration with the BVCOA, for the first time, Sommier was impressed by the vigor of the actor hidden behind the make-up and costumes, and the characters of incredible strength from the Chinese classics that evoked thoughts of the Greek tragedy genre.

He was also touched by the Chinese professors who passed their know-how to their students by acting together with them, which is different from how the French did in the theater world, he added. "In China, opera is an art requiring lifelong devotion and actors are the embodiment of the opera."

Since then, Sommier started delving into various performance forms and advocated introducing traditional Chinese operas to French audiences.

Following Sommier's suggestion, the BVCOA in 2005 staged innovative performances whose first half featured professors and students collaborating on stage without make-up or costumes, while the second half showcased students performing classics like "Farewell My Concubine" in a traditional manner.

The performances drew a total of over 22,000 spectators, and over 7,000 French students participated in the workshops on Chinese opera make-up and body gestures.

Expressing his hope that the audience truly understands the beauty of Beijing Opera instead of just watching it with a "tourist gaze" focusing on the exoticism of the art, Sommier said: "Theater is not a product to consume, but a real cultural meeting and an approach towards what we do not know. Apart from pleasures, it should intrigue people to make a bit of effort to understand unfamiliar things."

In 2010, Sommier extended his cooperation with the BVCOA and brought the newly created version of the Chinese classic "Water Margin" to the stage.

Over the years, Sommier has continued to discover and promote different Chinese operas. In the southeastern Chinese city of Quanzhou in Fujian Province, he was fascinated by Liyuan Opera, which he said was "the best ever seen" by him.

In 2014, on the occasion of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-France diplomatic ties, he brought Liyuan Opera to Paris and many other European cities on tour.

Last year, Sommier published his book "Ximi," which means "Theater Enthusiast" in English, dedicating a significant portion of it to recounting his experiences with Chinese operas.

Noting that "theater constitutes another step" toward the Chinese culture and "the image of China is underrepresented in the world," he said, "The differences between Chinese operas and French theater enrich the public's view and thus enrich the image of a country."

The year 2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, and also the China-France Year of Culture and Tourism. Numerous bilateral cultural events, including theater shows, are scheduled for the two peoples.

Having served as a cultural courier between the two countries for two decades, Sommier hopes that the French and Chinese will mutually impress each other with high-quality shows.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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