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Henan Qu opera to debut at Chinese Opera Festival in June to showcase unique regional operatic styles (with photos)
     The Chinese Opera Festival 2023 (COF), presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), will stage Henan Qu opera, a regional operatic genre rarely seen by Hong Kong audiences, for the first time in June. Qu opera masters and actors of the Centre for the Safeguarding of Qu Opera of Henan will come to Hong Kong to stage three iconic plays, showcasing the unique and traditional artistic charm of Qu opera with the best line-up of the troupe.
     Henan Qu opera, also known as gaotaiqu (literally "high stage singing"), is one of the main regional Chinese opera genres of Henan Province. Qu opera was inscribed onto the First National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2006. It originated from an ordinary folk song-and-dance show which combined the form of guziqu singing performance with the acrobatic skill of stilt-walking (gaoqiao), and has evolved into a proper operatic form after the stilts were discarded. With simple and understandable singing and spoken lines, its contents are mostly about the lives of ordinary people, typical of vernacular plays.
     The Centre has gathered veteran Qu opera artists and young talent from various schools to stage three of their highly representative productions as well as two excerpts at the COF. The first performance will feature "Wedding in a Snowstorm", an iconic play of Qu opera with a lively and bright pace that has been enjoyed by many audiences over the years. The scenes of "Being Put Into a Crate" and "On Their Wedding Night" are timeless classics. "Roll Up in a Mat" will be presented in the second performance, where the comic actor will drive the action of the play to portray a sincere and simple character by using the unique singing style of Qu opera. The final performance will begin with "Chen Sanliang", with its music combining the dadiao (full length tunes) and the xiaodiao (short tunes), which showcases the vocal skills of the cast. Classic excerpts, "Crying at the Great Wall from Meng Jiangnu" and "The Garden from Kou Zhun with His Boots", also feature the outstanding operatic skills of performers, which are must-see pieces for theatregoers.
     Details of the three performances are as follows:
Date and time: June 23 (Friday), 7.30pm
"Wedding in a Snowstorm"
Main cast: Liu Yanli, Hu Xiuqin, Yang Shuaixue
Synopsis: Yan Jun is the son of a rich man, but he is far from good-looking. He ogles Gao Qiufang, daughter of squire Gao Zan, and asks his cousin Qian Qing to go on his behalf to make a formal proposal. The Gao family is delighted to see Qian Qing and the marriage proposal is accepted. On the wedding day, Yan Jun asks Qian Qing again to go and receive the bride on his behalf. A snowstorm suddenly hits, Gao Zan and his wife conduct the wedding ceremony and ask the newlyweds to spend their wedding night at the Gao residence. The furious Yan Jun drags Qian Qing to court to sue him for marriage fraud. The judge rules that Qiufang is properly married to Qian Qing, and Yan Jun ends up losing and leaving empty-handed.
Date and time: June 24 (Saturday), 7.30pm
"Roll Up in a Mat"
Main cast: Chang Xiangke (former part), Yang Shuaixue (latter part), Liu Qing
Synopsis: Zhang Cangwa has lost his father at a tender age. He follows his mother who later marries into the Cao family. But she is so wicked that she first kills Master Cao and then frames Zhang, wife of Cao's son, Baoshan. In order to save the innocent Zhang, Cangwa offers himself up as the murderer, and is sentenced to death. Fortunately, Cangwa is rescued by the newly appointed Governor, Baoshan, who has attained honour at the imperial examination. The Cao family is united again at long last.
Date and time: June 25 (Sunday), 7.30pm
"Chen Sanliang"
Main cast: Zhang Aiqin (former part), Liu Qing (latter part), Hou Qingxiang
Synopsis: Chen Sanliang, who is initially named Li Suping, became a courtesan when her parents died. She sold herself to a brothel in exchange for the means to bury her parents and support the education of her younger brother, Li Fengming. There, she takes a beggar called Chen Kui in as her younger brother, and teaches him poetry and literature at the brothel. Later, Chen Kui attains the highest honour at the imperial examination. He sends for his sister Sanliang to join him. The pimp at the brothel however tricks Sanliang into marrying a jeweller Zhang Zichun as a concubine. As they pass by Cangzhou, Sanliang discovers the lie and refuses to go further. Zhang takes Sanliang to court and bribes the local official, who happens to be Sanliang's brother, Li Fengming. Not recognising his sister in court, Fengming tries to persuade her to go with Zhang, but Sanliang refuses in very strong words. The infuriated Fengming resorts to torturing Sanliang. Meanwhile, Chen Kui, now the Imperial Commissioner, rescues Sanliang in time, and dismisses Fengming from office. Only then does Sanliang agree to reconcile with Fengming, and the three brothers and sister reunite.
Excerpt "Crying at the Great Wall from Meng Jiangnu"
Main cast: Fang Suzhen
Synopsis: During the rule of the First Emperor Qin, a man called Fan Jiliang is drafted to go to the north frontier to build the Great Wall three days after he is married to Meng Jiangnu. Meng misses her husband so much that she travels all the way to the Great Wall in search of him, only to find out that her husband has already passed away. The woman is so heartbroken that she cries for three days and three nights. Her wails are heard by the gods in heaven and on earth. They are so deeply touched that they bring down the Great Wall.
Excerpt "The Garden from Kou Zhun with His Boots"
Main cast: Li Yajun, Liu Yanli
Synopsis: In the Northern Song period, the Song emperor is deceived by treacherous ministers and sends loyal Marshal Yang Yanzhao to join the army in exile. A villain fakes an order from the emperor to sentence Yanzhao to death by poison. Ren Tanghui, Yanzhao's good friend in prison, drinks the poison instead so as to spare Yanzhao from death. After that, the Yang family reports to the court that Yanzhao has died of illness, and sets up the mourning hall. Kou Zhun goes to the Yang residence to see for himself and finds it suspicious that Yanzhao's wife is wearing the festive colour red under her mourning clothes. Moreover, she is secretly bringing food to Yanzhao. Knowing that Yanzhao is still alive, Kou delivers the good news to the good Eighth Prince such that the patriotic warriors from the Yang family can once again serve the country.
     The Centre for the Safeguarding of Qu Opera of Henan, originally known as the Qu Opera Troupe of Henan Province, was founded in 1960. It is currently the only professional company of the genre at the provincial level, as well as one of the key professional Chinese opera troupes in Henan Province. Among the members of the Centre are several renowned Qu opera masters, including winners of the China Theatre Plum Blossom Award, National Class One actors and an outstanding team of young actors. The Centre has received multiple awards at both provincial and national levels, and many plays in its repertory have been made into opera films or television videos.
     Three performances will be held at the Theatre of Hong Kong City Hall. Each performance will run for about two hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission of 15 minutes. Lyrics and dialogue are with Chinese and English surtitles. Tickets priced at $160, $260 and $360 are now available at URBTIX (www.urbtix.hk). For telephone bookings, please call 3166 1288. For programme enquiries and concessionary schemes, please call 2268 7325 or visit www.cof.gov.hk/2023/en/qu.html.
     A meet-the-artists session entitled "On the Vocal Styles and Performing Techniques of Qu Opera, with Demonstrations" (in Putonghua) will be held at 7.30pm on June 22 (Thursday) at AC2, 4/F, Administration Building, Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The speakers include Fang Kejie (Composer), Liu Qing, Yang Shuaixue, Li Jie (Director), Fang Suzhen, Liu Yanli, Hou Qingxiang and Li Yajun, while Chinese opera researcher Chan Chun-miu will be the moderator. Admission is free with limited seats available on a first-come, first-served basis. Details can be found on the above-mentioned website.
     Since its inception in 2010, the COF has curated quality operatic programmes with the aim of promoting the artistry and culture of Chinese traditional opera. COF 2023 will once again bring together an excellent line-up of Chinese opera troupes to stage nine quality operatic programmes covering a variety of theatrical genres, including Peking opera, Qu opera, Sichuan opera, Han opera, Cantonese opera, Wu opera, Kunqu opera and Yue opera, from June to October, showcasing the splendour of Chinese operatic art in all its glory. For more details, please visit www.cof.gov.hk.
Ends/Monday, May 22, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:05
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