Day 2 – 2013-02-03
I had nothing to do in the morning, so I woke up late. I saw that the snow fell down, but I was prepared, I had my furry ushanka with me that already earned me the nickname Lei Feng. Well, yes, the resemblance is stunning:
I prepared some untasty meal for myself, then browsed through my Hungarian language Beijing guide book (just for the record, we call Beijing Peking.) It was my first time over there and I was totally unfamiliar even with the greatest tourist magnets and historical sites.
I had an appointment with my friend at 2 o’clock in Ruifu Xiyuan, a Sunday Beijing Opera club at Duan Qirui’s former residence which wasn’t far, just four subway stations from Chongwenmen. The previous day I was equipped with local phone card and transport card that was easier to use than London’s Oyster, and for my great relief, the public transport network of Beijing proved to be excellent, significantly surpassing the technical and aesthetic niveau of the Budapest one, worldwide famous for shabby subway cars, infrequent bus services, uncultured ticket examiners and outrageous ticket prices.
I usually watch the videos made during these club afternoons, so I had a vague idea how the place looks like. It’s a basement-style tea house with a stage, bar chairs, sofas and friendly locals eating pumpkin seeds. Or peanuts. Anyhow, tea is a must, here you can see mine:
In the first half of the afternoon amateur singers entertain others and themselves, later professional guest performers hop on stage while people are chatting and discussing matters of opera, politics and everyday life. In the blog of Ruifu Xiyuan you can always inquire about the program, if you are in Beijing it’s worth to give this place a go, you even might meet one of your favorite performers.
This time the following performers came:
Hou Lianying 侯连英 Qiu school hualian from the Beijing Jingju Theater (he’s a frequent guest)
Song Yuzhen 宋玉珍 Zhang school qingyi from the Hebei Jingju Theater
Sun Peihong 孙培鸿 Jiang school xiaosheng form the CNPOC
Yu Qi 由奇 Yu school female laosheng from the Beijing Jingju Theater
Liu Tingting 刘婷婷 Li school laodan from the Beijing Jingju Theater
My memory fails at this point, and my photos didn’t really work out, I remember two boys singing Mei and Cheng school qingyi roles, Drunken Concubine and The Unicorn Purse respectively (see picture below), someone sang from The Third Wife Teaching the Son, and I heard the famous duet from Meilongzhen – it was towards the end of the afternoon so they must have been Song Yuzhen and Yu Qi.
For some reason the guy often making recordings here uploaded only one video from this afternoon, it happens to be my very casually dressed friend Qianpu singing Famensi.
Around five o’clock the club afternoon ended, and the jingju performance we had tickets for started only half past seven, so we went to a nearby restaurant, Baikui Laohao to refuel our engines. (The photo below wasn’t made by me, I just borrowed it from the net.) I ate delicious jiaozi and a somewhat untasty soup-like substance that resembled liquid pig lard.
My friend has the habit of loudly singing jingju arias on the street, so the walk to the theater was really entertaining. The evening performance was held in the Forbidden City Concert Hall, it was already dark when we arrived to Zhongshan Park. We had free tickets (Thank you Du Peng!) for a special ”说书唱戏” edition of The Orphan of the Zhaos, between the acts Wang Yuebo 王玥波 fascinated the audience with story-telling interludes – what a pity that I got none of the jokes and understood only a few words.
In winter Zhongshan Park closes its gates at six or seven o’clock, you had to show up your tickets to get in. Bertrand already posted a night photo of the Arrow Tower of the Forbidden City here, below you can see an after-dark photo of the Shejitan 社稷坛 (Altar of Earth and Grain), Qinglianduo 青莲朵 (Green Lotus Rock), and another famous rock, Qianzhishi 搴芝石, a remnant of the Old Summer Palace. In the background of the latter you can see the animal-sacrificing pavilion.
Since it was a xiaonian 小年 aka. Kitchen God Festival (23rd of the 12th lunar month) performance, the ticket prices were horrid (1280 yuan, more than 200 USD), and the management chose this fancy venue, where you can see Li Shengsu and Itzak Perlman on the same wall:
Previously I sent a message to Zhu Qiang that I’ll go see this show, he said that this concert hall isn’t suitable for jingju performances. He proved to be right, I’m not an acoustics expert but the voice of huanlian performers sounded especially odd.
Before the performance I had the opportunity to quickly meet Zhu Qiang who was sitting on a trunk in the corridor. Previous day they still were in Shanghai, CCTV broadcast the performance live. (You can watch this edition of the ye olde Long Feng Cheng Xiang here: Part1 | Part2) He greeted me with his usual cheerfulness, he’s a very warmhearted and charismatic person, no wonder he has lots of fans.
Du Peng and Wang Rongrong had a separate dressing room, they were smiling and waving friendly, but seemingly had no time to ask questions or pose on photos, I just made two shots, and none of them are breathtaking… One you can see at operabeijing.com, and the other one below:
Wang Rongrong soon changed her shower cap to phoenix crown, and rocked the house with ease. Seeing a prominent disciple of Zhang Junqiu performing live for the first time definitely was a great experience for me. Naturally she impersonated the mommy of the orphan, Princess Zhuangji, her on-stage husband was played by the sympathic but still young xiaosheng, Liu Mingzhe 刘明哲. On the stage picture below she’s with her real husband, Du Peng.
As usual, Han Juming 韩巨明 was the “bad hualian”, playing Tu Angu, and Meng Guanglu 孟广禄 the “good hualian”, playing Wei Jiang. Others in the cast were Du Peng 杜鹏 (before) and Zhu Qiang 朱强 (later) as Cheng Ying, Suo Mingfang 索明芳 as the self-sacrificing servant maid Bu Feng, Song Haoyu 宋昊宇 as Gongsun Chujiu, Gao Yunxiao 高云霄 as General Han Jue, the talented and painfully young wawasheng/wudan Xu Ying 徐滢 as Zhao Wu and many more. (I have to mention the mandolin player girl who made us laugh, she carried her instrument in a baby pink lacquered leather case.)
Last year in Sicily I saw Wu Haoyi’s Bu Feng, she was a witty, unyielding, “I never surrender”-style maid, Suo Mingfang seemed a bit more fragile, yet enduring any hardships out of loyalty – same words, same movements, yet the personal characteristics of the performers shined through. I like this character! A strong woman.
Photos were not allowed, I made two but immediately was hunted down by the staff with a green laser pointer. Not much of a relief, but I wasn’t the only one. Anyhow, the guy speaking loudly on the phone wasn’t lasered, and we could use our phones for messaging all along, just no photos.
Curtain call: Xu Ying (behind the flower tower), Wang Yuebo, Du Peng, Wang Rongrong, Zhu Qiang, Meng Guanglu, Han Juming.
After the performance I got home very quickly (I love the Beijing subway), and wrote several e-mails to different parts of the world. Besides photos, my mailbox provides immeasurable help too when I try to remember things…
to be cont.