Chinese operatic stars take to stage in London

Updated: 2016-10-14 17:55

By CECILY LIU(China Daily UK)

  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small

Chinese operatic stars take to stage in London

The China National Opera Company returns to the London stage at the Peacock Theatre. [WANG ZHIYONG/CHINA DAILY]

The China National Opera Company returned to the London stage on Thursday.

It followed up on a successful visit last year, again bringing British audiences the best of China's national form of theater-combining unique storytelling, acrobatics, acting and martial arts with Chinese singing and dance.

The performances at the Peacock Theatre, from Thursday to Saturday, feature two shows, The General and the Prime Minister and the Legend of White Snake. The two masterpieces celebrate heroism and love in Chinese tradition.

Li Shengsu, one of the lead performers, said Peking Opera is China's national pride and she equates its significance with Shakespeare's position in British culture.

The performances come amid surging interest in Peking Opera in the West, spurred by academic interest, the Chinese diaspora's increasing performances in local communities, and Western artists' and performers' fascination with the genre.

Meanwhile, younger performers are revolutionizing Peking Opera to make it more relevant to international audiences.

With a history of about 200 years, Peking Opera started in teahouses and became recognized as the national form of theater in the 19th century as it spread across China.

It spread abroad, led by the legendary Mei Lanfang, who is credited with revolutionizing the tradition of men performing female roles, and who toured the United States in 1930. Mei died in 1961 at age 66.

More recently, Peking Opera's popularity has grown among overseas Chinese.

In London, a charity named the London Jing Kun Opera Association was set up in 2002 to perform Chinese opera twice a month in London and around the UK. The performers also visit schools and universities and invite students to their performances.

Chen Kaige's famed 1993 movie Farewell My Concubine also played a crucial role in making Peking Opera known to the Western public.

In2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared Peking Opera an Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Western artists' and performers' fascination with Peking Opera is also growing amid a global shift toward multiculturalism.

The Russian-born installation artist Varvara Shavrova created the short film The Opera to express her fascination with the transformation of males performing female roles-once common in English theater, particularly in works by Shakespeare and Marlowe.

She explores why such a practice still exists in Peking Opera but which has died out in Western theaters.

Meanwhile, newer Chinese operatic pieces have introduced more relevance for international viewers.

Min Yen Ong, an ethnomusicologist postdoctoral research associate in the music department of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, said, "Many changes have been made to modern-day Chinese opera performances to attract audiences."

Despite growing interest and appreciation of Chinese opera in the West, one major challenge limiting the spread of its popularity is its unique system of symbolism, Ong said.

Li, the performer, said Peking Opera actors should remain true to its traditions, perform to the highest international standards, and bring performances to the international stage through market-driven methods.