An Australian working for a Chinese media group was curious about Chinese opera and decided to see a performance of “The Peony Pavilion.” Her workmates were only glad to arrange a ticket, but when it came to volunteers to accompany her, no hands went up. Her young Chinese colleagues scoffed at the idea of traditional opera.
Traditional opera in the age of heavy metal, hip-hop, punk rock, Cantopop and other contemporary music can take some getting used to.
Carol Wang, an administrative worker in her 20s, says she always thought of traditional operas as boring and overly stylized, with plots disengaged from modern life.
However, she changed her mind after watching a performance of the Kunqu Opera “The Chairs,” an avant-garde interpretation of the farce by French playwright Eugene Ionesco, at the recent Shanghai Traditional Opera Festival.
“It was beautiful,” Wang recalls. “The play combined a sentimental story about love and life with the aesthetics of traditional Chinese opera. The stage setting was simple, just one table and two chairs. But so many different emotions were expressed.”
The performance, according to critics, successfully combined elements of the “theater of the absurd” with the time-honored traditions of Kunqu. The show is expected to tour international theater festivals this year.
The recent Shanghai festival staged nine innovative performances spanning the genres of Peking, Kunqu, Huaiju, Yueju and Yuju operas. Some were first-time adaptations of classic movies and Western novels.
Chinese opera still resonates with many older people, but the goal now is to try to attract the interest of younger generations, both as audiences and participants.
Officials at the Shanghai Center of Chinese Operas said the Shanghai festival offered a platform for young performers and original scripts.
While not abandoning the essence of traditional Chinese opera, troupes in Shanghai are keen to shed the stereotype of an old-fogey art form by staging shows with new performing styles, artistic stage designs and appealing stories.