Unusual (may I say never seen before) artistic elements, beautiful costumes, lovable performers – everything is together to have a good time while watching Hua Rui.
The Jiangsu Jingju Troupe staged this new play in Wuhan, at the 6th National Beijing Opera Festival on 8 September last year, with the cast of Li Jie, Yan Zhen, Sheng Haining and Fu Xiru. The latter was borrowed from Shanghai for the role of the acrobatic and arrogant Prince Charming – jackpot.
Title: 京剧《花蕊》Hua Rui
Date: 2011/09/08, Hongshan Hall, Wuhan
Hua Rui: Li Jie (李洁)
Zhao Kuangyin: Yan Zhen (严阵)
Zhao Guangyi: Fu Xiru (傅希如)
Meng Chang: Sheng Haining (盛海宁)
Prime Minister Zhao Pu: Li Weiqun (李为群)
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The story is set in present-day Sichuan. Founder of the Northern Song Dynasty, Zhao Kuangyin (Emperor Taizu) subdues the kingdom of Later Shu, his secret motivation is to take possession of Lady Hua Rui, the beautiful concubine of Meng Chang (ruler of the fallen Shu kingdom).
While transporting the captured Hua Rui, Taizu’s younger brother, Zhao Guangyi (later Emperor Taizong) also gets enchanted by Hua Rui’s charm and tries to molest her but he fails.
Hua Rui is stuck in an awkward situation with these three men and their love. The first dropout is the romantic Meng Chang, who has outstanding literary talent but he’s weak and powerless – the Zhao brothers poison him to death. (However, Meng Chang appears in the play as a ghost from time to time.) Now Emperor Taizu can take Hua Rui as concubine, and Zhao Guangyi gets more and more jealous.
The weeping Hua Rui offers sacrifice to her deceased husband in the palace, and draws a portrait of Meng Chang. Zhao Guangyi, risking his own life sneaks into Hua Rui’s room and confesses his passionate love, he also admits the poisoning of Meng Chang. Hua Rui angrily rejects him, yet she doesn’t want him to get into trouble and hides Guangyi when the Emperor unexpectedly shows up.
Taizu suspects Hua Rui is hiding another man, but finally gives up on questioning and goes to sleep. In the other room, he sees Hua Rui’s painting, and assumes the young and handsome man on the portrait is Zhao Guangyi. The Emperor starts a lengthy lament about his own vanished youth (he removes his beard as if it were some kind of stage prop, definitely an unorthodox idea from the director), then demands the returning Hua Rui to explain who’s on the picture.
Hua Rui tells him it’s not Zhao Guangyi, but to admit it’s supposed to be Meng Chang is also a bad idea, so she cleverly fabricates a fairy tale about the god of Mount Qingcheng and defuses the conflict. Meng Chang’s ghost is also there, commenting on the story, the whole scene is somewhat surreal. The Emperor and Hua Rui part on good terms.
In the final scene, Hua Rui accompanies Zhao Kuangyin in the royal hunt, and an arrow shot by the jealous Zhao Guangyi mistakenly kills her.
While dying, she finally reveals her emotions towards all three men: marrying Zhao Kuangyin, grieving over Meng Chang, rejecting the illicit relationship with Zhao Guangyi – all were because of her insistence on self-esteem. Death is a real relief for Hua Rui, she finally can get rid of her self-esteem (pride?) and controversial emotions.
I read reviews on this play, and those confirmed the script was a bit shady and some details remained uncertain even for Chinese spectators who didn’t have to face the language barrier. Did the painting made by Hua Rui really resemble Zhao Guangyi, or just Emperor Taizu felt so? How is it possible that Hua Rui actually liked Zhao Guangyi? Maybe these question were left open intentionally, to let spectators draw their own conclusions. (?)
As understood by me, this play is a story of a vulnerable woman, struggling in an emotionally complicated situation. She cherishes the memory of Meng Chang because this is the morally correct behavior. She becomes Emperor Taizu’s consort to defend her integrity and dignity. Although she likes Zhao Guangyi, simply cannot melt into the arms of someone who repeatedly tried to violate her chastity and killed her previous lover. My impression was that Hua Rui was attached to all three in different ways; like an ordinary woman, she just wanted to love and be loved. Unfortunately she became a prisoner in this odd love rectangle of monarchs.
But don’t let yourself influenced by my review! This is just what this drama meant to me, maybe you’ll see a completely different Hua Rui.
I borrowed the photos from here: http://blog.sina.com.cn/yinc423