The National Center for the Performing Arts' production of a classic revolution-themed Chinese opera is set to hit the stage and win over a new audience, Chen Nan reports.
In 1991, a Chinese opera premiered in Beijing to a warm reception from both audiences and critics alike. Produced by the Opera Troupe of the General Political Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, the opera, titled Daughter of the Party, based on the 1958 movie of the same name, tells the story of Tian Yumei, a Party member who devoted her life to protect guerrilla soldiers during the Agrarian Revolutionary War (1927-37).
With a star-studded creative team, including songwriters Yan Su, He Dongjiu, Wang Zujie and Zhang Zhuoya, the opera, featuring former soprano Peng Liyuan in the leading role, won a number of awards, including the Wenhua Award in 1992, a top national accolade for the performing arts. Since then, it has become a classic Chinese opera, having been staged over 600 times nationwide.
Thirty years after its premiere, the opera will again be restaged, this time produced by the National Center for the Performing Arts. From Tuesday to Sunday, the opera will be performed, featuring a cast of veteran singers that includes soprano Lei Jia playing the lead role of Tian.
According to Zhao Tiechun, vice-president of the NCPA, the restaging of this classic opera is part of the venue's programs to celebrate the centenary of the Communist Party of China.
Wang Jun, who codirected the original version of the opera in 1990, will direct this latest iteration for the NCPA.
"It was an unforgettable experience for me, who, at the time, had just graduated from the Central Academy of Drama and began to work with the Opera Troupe of the General Political Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army," recalls Wang, who later worked as an actor, and then directed a number of successful movies and TV dramas, such as Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace and A Little Reunion.
"I worked on the opera along with other veteran Chinese artists from its very beginning. I didn't expect that I would get the opportunity to direct the opera again 30 years later.
"When I sat in the rehearsal room of the NCPA, many memories of working on that original production came flooding back," says Wang.
"Thirty years ago, we conducted our rehearsals in a small studio near Xinjiekou, in Beijing's downtown area. All of the creative members were devoted and passionate about the opera. I toured with the opera for over 90 performances, so I know every detailed part of it."
A challenge for Wang and the creative team working on the new production of the classic opera is that the audience is familiar about the story and the songs.
Under the baton of conductor Li Xincao, the China NCPA Orchestra and its chorus will perform the music for the opera. Musicians of China National Traditional Orchestra will accompany them.
"China has been exploring creative ways to combine traditional Chinese music with Western opera. This opera is one of the successful attempts, featuring lots of Chinese folk music and traditional Chinese musical instruments," says Liao Changyong, an operatic baritone, who is the president of Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
It will be the first time that Liao will perform in a Chinese opera production. In the opera, Liao plays the role of Qishugong, an elderly man who works undercover for the CPC.
"He wants to contribute to the revolution and is very brave. There were so many ordinary people like him and Tian who sacrificed their own lives for the country's liberation," says Liao, who is known for playing roles in Western operas, such as Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) by Mozart and Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata (The Fallen Woman).
Soprano Lei says that her early experience of learning huaguxi ("flower-drum opera"), a local Chinese opera style unique to the Hunan region, is very helpful for her when playing roles in Chinese operas, which feature lots of Chinese folk music elements.
Known for her performances in Chinese operas, including The White-Haired Girl and Mulan, Lei says she was coached by veteran musicians who participated in the original version of the opera, enabling her to not only interpret the role, but also learn about the spirit of the heroine, Tian.
"She faced such difficulty being apart from her child and then being betrayed by her comrades. However, she was a very strong and determined woman, who didn't give up and held onto her firm beliefs as a Party member," says Lei.
According to conductor Li, before doing rehearsals, the orchestra and chorus read the music scores of the opera thoroughly. They have also adapted some of the songs into versions that will appeal to a contemporary audience.
"From the music to the stage set and costumes, the opera will offer the audience a sense of freshness, even though the story is a classic one. It's the spirit of the characters portrayed in the opera that deserves to be passed on to the younger generation," says Li.