Peking Opera 'losing its tradition'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am


A top musician has criticised a new adaptation of the Peking Opera Farewell My Concubine.

Li Zuming, of the China National Peking Opera Company, said modern elements tacked on to the classic opera - including video and even a real horse - had turned it into a stage play.

Li said the elaborate changes made by Chinese-American director Chen Shizheng were unnecessary and not in line with the traditional Chinese art form.

'They call it 'innovation' and 'New Peking Opera', but we think that's misleading,' Li said. He suggested the government set certain criteria to keep Peking Opera productions true to its origins.

'Traditional Peking Opera, with some 200 years of history, has very simple stage props - usually a table and two chairs - as the art form mainly focuses on the singing and performances of the artists,' Li said.

He said there was no need for elaborate sets as audiences could use their imaginations.

Farewell My Concubine - created in 1922 by Mei Lanfang, one of the most famous Peking Opera performers - returned to the stage in Beijing last month with modern stage technology and elements.

China News Service reported the staging included a 3-D display and video of a battle, accompanied by music and drums, from the film House of Flying Daggers, and a horse.

The people who created the costumes, videos and lighting are reportedly all foreign - from Britain, Germany, Italy and the United States - leading purists to question how well they understand traditional Chinese art.

Mainland media have reported that the play would be performed during the London Olympic Games between July and August to promote traditional Chinese culture.

Mei's son Mei Baojiu said that as these types of profit-driven innovations became increasingly popular, mainland artists should try to preserve the essence of Peking Opera. 'These innovations and traditional Peking Opera are two different arts,' he said.

Wang Xiang, the revamped production's producer, was quoted as saying that the creative team was trying to be innovative by adding modern music and elements from Western-style operas, with costumes also designed by foreign artists.

'[We tried] to develop a new way to perform, and this will certainly break the conventions of Peking Opera,' he told China News Service.

But Li said this was not necessary.

'You don't need to show audiences a real horse in order to narrate the story; it's too silly,' he said. 'Impressive stage effects can boost box office proceeds, but we have to clarify to the public that it's not authentic Peking Opera.'