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I had the honor to be selected as one of the official photographers for this summer’s Peking Opera Spectacular presented by New Jersey Peking Opera Society.

“Peking opera, or Beijing opera (Chinese: 京剧; pinyin: Jīngjù), is a form of Chinese opera which combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. It arose in the late 18th century and became fully developed and recognized by the mid-19th century. The form was extremely popular in the Qing dynasty court and has come to be regarded as one of the cultural treasures of China. Major performance troupes are based in Beijing and Tianjin in the north and Shanghai in the south. The art form is also preserved in Taiwan (Republic of China), where it is known as Guójù (traditional Chinese: 國劇; simplified Chinese: 国剧; “National theatre”). It has also spread to other countries such as the United States and Japan.

Peking opera features four main types of performers. Performing troupes often have several of each variety, as well as numerous secondary and tertiary performers. With their elaborate and colorful costumes, performers are the only focal points on Peking opera’s characteristically sparse stage. They use the skills of speech, song, dance and combat in movements that are symbolic and suggestive, rather than realistic. Above all else, the skill of performers is evaluated according to the beauty of their movements. Performers also adhere to a variety of stylistic conventions that help audiences navigate the plot of the production. The layers of meaning within each movement must be expressed in time with music. The music of Peking opera can be divided into the Xipi (西皮) and Erhuang (二黄) styles. Melodies include arias, fixed-tune melodies and percussion patterns. The repertoire of Peking opera includes over 1,400 works, which are based on Chinese history, folklore and, increasingly, contemporary life.” (Source: Peking Opera Spectacular Eventbrite Page)

“The mission of the New Jersey Peking Opera Society is the fostering of Chinese culture and promotion of Peking Opera. The Society is composed of members from different backgrounds, professions, and ages, who share a common love for the art of Peking Opera and includes both professional as well as amateur performers. ” (Source: Peking Opera Spectacular event booklet)

I feel so lucky that the organization granted us access to backstage to photograph behind-the-scene pictures. This blog also features images from another event official photographer Alfred Ye’s captures. Descriptions of each play is taken from the event booklet.

The solo part is the Ode to the Pear Blossom, the theme song from the orchestral Peking Opera Musical Beauty of the Great Tang Dynasty. The duet part is based on the well known Butterfly Lovers, hence the title. The love story of Tang Emperor Li Longji and his favorite concubine Yang Yuhuan as well as that of the Butterfly Lovers, Liang and Zhu, hardly need any introduction. The song has been widely popular among Peking Opera professionals as well as fans. (Xiaoyan Huang as Emperor Li Longji; Juan Xu as Yang Yuhuan)

I was able to capture many behind-the-scenes makeup, hair, costume fitting, and backstage/pre-show practice of this Flower Fairy play. The opera is one of the most historically significant works by Mei Lanfang, adapted from Buddhism stories and features in the song and movement of a flower fairy who sprinkles petals from heaven as a means to test the readiness of a Buddhist novice. The heavenly woman performs a poetically expressive ribbon dance with a 15-meter long silk strip. (Haijun Hu as Flower Fairy)

The Chi Sang Town is about Judge Bao, one of my favorite Chinese historical characters, known for his justice. After Judge Bao sentences his nephew, Bao Mian, to death for the latter’s illegal conduct, Wu Miaozhen, the nephew’s mother, rushes to Red Mulberry Village and, making a big scene, blames Bao for being ungrateful and disloyal. Listening to Judge Bao’s gentle and tactful explanation, Miaozhen realizes that he did the proper thing and forgives him. In the end, Judge Bao and Miaozhen resume their amicable relation. (Yuanqi Wen as Bao Zheng; Tina Zhang as Wu Miaozhen; Hao Sun as Wang Chao)

General Yang’s Escape: This episode, culminated by the duet between the female and male roles, is one of the most popular Beijing Opera plays General Yang Silang from the Song Dynasty was stranded in the enemy’s regime and had to hide his real identity. He was eager to see his mother who led the Song troop to the front post, but was worried about not being able to get the pass. Princess Tie Jing, his wife, larned of his true identity and made p her mind to help him get the pass. The duet is so popular that almost every Beijing Opera fan knows how to sing.  (Xiaoxian Xie as Princess Tiejing; Xin Zhao as Yang Yanhui)

Submission Both to Tang Dynasty: This story happened about 1000 years ago in the Sui-Tang era in Chinese history. The rebellions in Wagang mountain were in disarray under the ruling of Lord Li Mi. Wang Bodang, as one general of Li Mi, suggested that Li Mi should surrender to Tang Dynasty. Li Mi was concerned that Prince Li Shimin of Tang would take a revenge against him as the Prince was once put in prison by Li Mi. Wang Bodang promised Li Mi that he would not be held accountable for the Prince’s imprisonment. When Li Mi surrender, the emperor of Tang was happy and arranged a marriage of his niece, Princess Heyang, to Li Mi. Li Mi was plotting overthrowing the emperor of Tang and asked to the Princess to help him. The Princess denounced Li Mi and was killed by Li Mi. Although very angry at him, Wang Bodang helped Li Mi to escape from the forbidden city. One the way to their friends in Henan from whom they were planning to borrow troops, the two were ambushed by Prince Li Shimin’s army. They were shot to death by arrows at a mountain pass called Duanmijian, literally translated in Chinese as “the creek where Li Mi dies”! (Xianzhong Zhai as Li Mi; Xin Yang as Wang Bodang)

 

Great Expectation: In the Ming Dynasty, Xue Guang had his wife Madam Zhang, and two concubines, Madam Liu and Madam Wang Chun’er. Madam Liu gave birth to a son named Xue Yi. Xue Guang went to Kaifeng for business, and asked his friend to bring some money for him back home. But he kept the money for his own. He made up a story and told Xue’s family that Xue died outside. The family was shocked, and sent an old servant Xue Bao to take his coffin back home for burial. Xue’s wife Zhang and concubine Madam Liu married successively to other men. Only the third Madam, Wang Chun’er stayed. She weaved cloth to earn money, and raised the son Liu left behind. In school, Xue Yi was laughed at by others as a child without his own mother. He was very upset. When he returned home, the third Madam Wang checked his homework, but he didn’t want to listen. He quarreled with Wang, said she was not his birth mother and hand no right to teach him. Wang was deeply hurt and cut the cloth into pieces with rage. With the old servant Xue Bao’s repeated persuasion, the mother and the son restored good relations. (Xueli Zhang as Xue Bao; Wendy Tan as Wang Chun’er; Ryan Peng as Xiao Yi Ge)

Qin Xianglian: In Song Dynasty, Chen Shimei placed first in the imperial examination and was awarded to be the brother-in-law of the Emperor. Due to Chen coveted wealth and power, he kept his marriage with Qin Xianglian a secret. However, when his first wife came to the capital with their children to look for him, Chen Shimei not only claimed not knowing them, but ordered his bodyguard Han Qi to kill them. Qin Xianglian went to Bao Zheng to sue Chen Shimei. Failing to pursuade Chen to tell the truth, Bao Zheng beheaded Chen Shimei. (Feihong Song as Qin Xianglian)

Prosperity Brought by The Dragon and The Phoenix: At the time of the Three Kingdoms,  because Liu Bei didn’t return Jingzhou to Sun Quan , Sun Quan and Zhou Yu set a plot to fake Sun Quan’s younger sister Shangxiang’s  marriage to Liu Bei, and Shangxiang was prepared to take Liu across the river as a hostage in exchange for Jingzhou. Zhuge Liang realized this trick, so he made Liu use Zhou’s father-in-law Qiao Xuan to persuade Sun Quan’s mother Mother Queen Wu,  and made the couple blind dated at Ganlu Temple and became a real marriage.  After Liu Bei recruited his relatives in Dongwu, he asked Sun Shangxiang to return to Jingzhou.  Shangxiang and Liu Bei fled. Zhou Yu came to chase, but was dismissed by Mother Queen Wu. Zhou Yu continued led the army to chase, but Liu Bei and his wife have been taken back to Jingzhou by Zhuge Liang. (Xiaomei Yu as Sun Shangxiang)

The show wouldn’t be so successful without staff working behind-the-scenes and the orchestra.

Art Director Mr. Peter Lu and his wife Mrs. Sissi Lu celebrated their 50th Golden wedding anniversary at the event. Thanks for having me! What an unforgettable experience!

Peking Opera Spectacular Take A Bow

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