Concubine's welcome return

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 1995, 12:00am

THIS newly-written Cantonese version of Farewell My Concubine is no light entertainment. It is not a scholar-beauty romance, a genre that has become popular in recent years, but a production that stresses on libretto.

Based loosely on the Beijing opera of the same title (one that was made famous by Mei Lanfang's performance as the concubine) Yip Siu-tak, the playwright for this version, has injected a more 'Guangdong' flavour into it.

Farewell My Concubine tells the sad tale of the rise and fall of Xiang Yu, an overlord of an ancient Chinese kingdom. Its final scene gives the opera its title as Xiang's love, out of sorrow, commits suicide. The story, thus, has no room for humour, an element which local audiences are so fond of.

For the benefit of amateurs, the opera is written in the contemporary Cantonese dialect, but Yip has tried to retain the archaic singing and traditional acting styles wherever possible. The result is refreshing.

The tunes and well-written libretto throughout the three-and-a-half hour performance are unmistakably in the traditional Cantonese style. How well these lines are delivered and acted out depend on the individual actor.

Veteran Yam Bing-yee is excellent as the laundry woman. Her voice is piercing and vocal technique superb. It is a shame that her small role means that she appears only in the opening act.

Law Kar-ying (currently a star of television and cinema) is disappointing when it comes to his singing. His voice is just not as resonant as the other actors'. But his operatic acting is still among the best in the territory.

He is supported by another Cantonese opera veteran, Yuen Siu-fai, who earns several rounds of roaring applause for his part as the funny Xiao He. Wan Fei-yin's performance as Concubine Yu is moving. The last scene when she pulls the sword from Xiang brings the opera to a climactic finale.

Farewell My Concubine, Yau Sing-po, Wan Fei-yin, Law Kar-ying, Yuen Siu-fai, Yam Bing-yee and Liu Kwok-sum. City Hall Concert Hall. February 17-18