This short 7min long Culture Express video below brings up pretty interesting topics, like innovation in contemporary Bejing opera – a much needed yet controversial issue.
It’s briefly introducing Dong Yuanyuan, a Mei school actress I highly appreciate.
→ Artist’s portrait about Dong Yuanyuan. [DOWNLOAD] 46MB
The TV version of Prime Minister Liu Luoguo with Dong and Chen Shaoyun, mentioned at 06:05 is kind of a “Holy Grail” for me, simply cannot find it anywhere.
The 6th Golden Eagle Awards ceremony Dong Yuanyuan was nominated at was held in 2006 October, so the TV play probably was shot around that time.
I spent many continuous days with searching for it, but the few snippets in this portrait film are the only evidence it ever existed, so my hopes are slowly fading away.
I got the stage version of this play from bookwholesale.com, it comes on three DVDs, with the following cast:
Part 1: Chen Shaoyun, Li Yan, Dong Yuanyuan, Luo Changde
Part2: Chen Shaoyun, Li Yan, Luo Changde, Zhang Huifang (as Yin Hong)
Part 3: Du Zhenjie, Zhu Qiang, Wang Rongrong, Meng Guanglu
Li Yan (CNJC), Chen Shaoyun (Shanghai), Zhang Huifang (Hubei) and Meng Guanglu (Tianjin) participated in the play as guest stars.
(The bonus present for me was the little policeman panda with well-wishes on the backside.)
Our Sony HXD1070 plays it effortlessly, but both of the DVD drives on my PC say “Eat dust!”, and spit it out. I’ll try differently though, since I really wanted to show you a few great scenes.
[edit:] Issue resolved, you can download a few scenes at operabeijing.com.
I fully agree with the review of mask9.com (there’s an excellent English summary to all three parts - [part1] [part2] [part3]):
Featured by beautiful aria, running jokes and plentiful suspense, it portrays an image of a wise man by comedy from the perspective of folk tradition.
This play is very funny and gripping at the same time from beginning to the end, with interesting twists, unusual stage performances (like dancing chess figures) and hilarious props (like a giant basket of ginger). Li Yan (李岩), son of Li Zongyi, who I didn’t know before, is just gorgeous as the Emperor. (Note for myself: Need to find out more about him. And get these below, by chance: ISRC:CNC020500610, ISRC:CNF040000390)
Some jokes work only with this particular cast, for example the words of Princess Gege’s father to Liu Yong (played by Chen Shaoyun), after he asked Liu to sing:
Bravo, bravo! You sing well. You deserve to be called a genuine disciple of Qi school.
And he sings well indeed! This new play allows Chen Shaoyun to show off more of his voice, besides the extraordinary acting.
Another funny moment happens after a spectacular acrobatic scene, when the Emperor and his horsegroom are trying to supple a fierce horse. As the scene ends and the actors strike a pose, Liu Yong’s father-in-law on stage cries “Bravo!” and starts to clap his hands, but soon retreats as he gets reproving looks from everyone.
The story of this opera is a bit fairytale-like, with a historical taste. The not-so-good looking, but brilliantly smart and talented Liu is trying his luck in the capital, gets so high in the government as possible, also he scores a splendidly beautiful and clever princess as devoted consort.
That’s just natural that narrative stories of honest and lovable historical characters are exaggerated, but in Liu Yong’s case to separate facts from fiction turned out to be a tougher cookie than I thought.
Incorruptible Qing dynasty politician and calligrapher Liu Yong (刘墉, 1719–1804) held more high-level positions, like Minister of Appointments, Minister of Rites and Minister of War in Qianlong’s court, and died in the 9th year of Jiaqing’s reign.
Possibly his nickname “Luoguo” (humpbacked) is as well-known as his calligraphy, though Liu Yong’s disadvantageous appearance is most likely just an anecdote.
In the feudal society of the Qing dynasty, candidates had to meet strict requirements to get a job as first rank government official. There were four criteria, called shen, yan, shu, pan (身、言、书、判), i.e. “body, speech, writing, judgement”.
To represent the power and prestige of the government, an official had to have majestic appearance, correct facial features and properly built body.
To manage affairs smoothly, the official had to use clear articulation and easily understandable language.
Concerning handwriting, carefully done and pretty characters were required, to present neat written reports to authorities.
And of course a judge has to be quick-witted, otherwise innocent people could have been victimized during trials.
It may seem strange nowadays, but the first one was the most important criterion–namely one’s appearance. Through the description of the requirements I visualized a semi-handsome, average built adult male with average height and average weight. A candidate with any bodily deformity had no chance whatsoever.
Fact that Emperor Jiaqing called Liu Yong by the nickname Liu Tuozi, “Humpy Liu” or something like this, but at that time Liu was already more than 80 years old – understandable that he wasn’t able to stand so straight any more.
Either way, in regards of handwriting he certainly had no shortcomings…
Liu Yong’s handwriting.
(For more amazing pieces Google “刘墉书法”.)
Sources: CCTV.com, baidu.com, Shanghai Museum, Hudong Wiki
Related: Stage and afterparty photos of a 2009 performance