Peking Opera’s “Classic Plays of the Mei School” Is Visually and Musically Exciting

By Joy Chiang Ling

2014 is the 120th anniversary of Mei Lanfang, a pioneer of Peking opera. Mei Lanfang was the first person to introduce the sacred cultural artform – long considered one of the “cultural treasures” of China – to the United States in the 1930s. He, along with the Jingju Troupe, toured Seattle, New York, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Honolulu for a half-year period and impressed Western audiences with the opera’s exotic flair. This year, Mei Lanfang’s son, Mei Baojiu, continued his father’s legacy, and debuted his version of the Peking Opera at New York City’s very own Lincoln Center alongside the modern-day Jingju Troupe and its director, Li Enjie.

Baojiu’s “Classic Plays of the Mei School” consists of five plays: “The Goddess of Heaven Scatters Flowers,” which stars Dou Xiaoxuan as the Goddess of Heaven, “Pierce the Mussel,” which stars Zhang Xinyue as Lian Jinfeng, “Resisting Jin Troops,” which stars Li Hongyan as Liang Hongyu, “Farewell My Concubine,” which features Shang Wei as Yu Ji and Chen Junjie as Xiang Yu, and finally, “Drunken Beauty,” which stars Hu Wenge as Yang Yuhuan.

The opera was supported by a Chinese orchestra, which featured instruments such as the Jinghu, Jing’erhu, Yueqin, Sanxian and Gong. The orchestra’s music was beautiful, and changed to suit each play’s mood. During “Resisting Jin Troops,” for example, the drums would take precedence in order to boost the morale of the soldiers on stage. The orchestra highlighted the singing of the performance, which traditionally includes very high-pitched female vocals.

The plays consist of predominantly female actors, called “dan.” Each female actress was garbed in an elaborate outfit, which typically consists of a bright and colorful dress, ornate headpieces, jewelry and intricate designs. The different roles had different accessories – the soldierly Liang Hongyu, for instance, wore swords on her back while the Goddess of Heaven had long and elegant ribbons.

Peking opera is meant to be both contemplative and visually and musically exciting. Mei Baojiu’s performance in particular was incredibly well-planned in regards to its choreography, set, music and costumes. Every aspect of the play was carefully thought out, thanks in part to Mei Baojiu’s passion for Peking opera and the Jingju Troupe’s talent. This is perhaps the most authentic Peking Opera experience available in America – and people should enjoy the cultural richness it has to offer.

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