St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre

Women generals of the Yang family

The Peking Opera

Guo Fanjia as Mu Guiying
Zhang Lan as She Taijun
Zhang Jianguo as Kou Zhun
Qin Liangmu as the Emperor
Zhang Yanning as Wang Hui
Fu Jia as Princess Chai
Bai Weichen as Yang Qiniang
Guo Mingyue as Yang Wenguang
Ma Along as Jiao Tinggui
Wang Wen as Gu Qian

Re-writers: Fan Hongjun and Lü Ruiming
Rehearsal Director: Zhen Yiqiu
Music: Zhang Fu
Stage Art Design: Zhao Jinsheng
Martial Arts Design: Li Mingde, Liu Shixiang, Han Pei-Ming, Zhang Changhai, Bai Jiyun

When the Western Xia invades Northern Song, the old general She Taijun sends her great-grandchildren, Yang Wenguang and Yang Jinhua to the capital city for information. Wenguang defeats Wang Lun, son of the treacherous official Wang Qiang, in a martial arts competition held to select the marshal who will lead the army against the Western Xia forces. Mu Guiying, Yang Wenguang’s mother, has long held a grudge against the Emperor. Persuaded by She Taijun and others, the patriotic Mu Guiying agrees to lead the army in battling invaders.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes



About the Concert

The history of Peking opera 
Peking opera has a history of only about two hundred years. There are other Chinese opera genres that came into existence much earlier, such as Kun opera which emerged as far back as the 14th century. It is said that Peking opera was born in 1790, when four opera companies from the province of Anhui came to Beijing to perform on the occasion of the 80th birthday of the Emperor. Soon afterwards, some other theatre companies from the region of Hubei followed. Over the years, Peking opera was formed through the combination of various music and performing techniques. In essence, Peking opera has never been an exclusive art form; from its very beginnings it was enjoyed by both the imperial court and the common people, so a wide range of audiences from all social classes was generated. Initially, exclusively male performers were allowed to participate in a performance. It was only from the 1870s onwards that women were permitted to appear on the stage. Despite that, however, male performers continued to be highly popular in dan roles.

From the capital to the rest of China 
From 1860 onwards, numerous travelling companies spread Peking opera all over China. By the end of the 19th century, Peking opera had become the most acclaimed form of opera in China. Beijing was the centre of the theatre world. The Qianmen area in the south of the Forbidden City had developed into a flourishing commercial centre packed with theatres, tea houses and restaurants which hosted all kinds of artistic activities and where Peking opera became a part of daily culture. It became the home of a multitude of famous Peking opera artists. New structures were introduced for managing theatres and Peking opera companies. From teahouses to theatres 
Peking opera was originally performed in a xiyuanzi, meaning a “tea courtyard”. Back then, people sat on benches facing one another and customers paid only for the tea, not for the performances. Peking opera was just some kind of “side show”; performances sometimes lasted as much as twelve hours. This changed with the introduction of so-called “old style theatres” in which all benches were installed facing the stage. Until 1931, the audience was separated; the men sat in the stalls and the women in the balconies. During the period of the Republic of China (1911-1949) theatres transformed and became comparable to western stages.

Peking opera in the world 
One of the most outstanding figures of Peking opera, Mei Lanfang was the first Peking opera actor to perform with his company outside China. His interpretation of dan roles is legendary, and a whole new performing school developed from his style. From the 1920s onwards Mei Lanfang visited countries including Japan and the USA, where he achieved extraordinary success. Since then, Peking opera has been shown throughout the world and has been at the forefront of cultural exchange. In 2010 Peking opera was included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

The performance of classical plays 
Some of the classical plays written during the Qing period could hardly be performed today. Many of them consist of more than twenty-four acts; to rehearse them would take years and to stage them would take several days. The epic play Shengpingbaofa (The Precious Raft of Exalted Peace) – commissioned by the Peking opera-fan Emperor Qianlong – tells the story of a monk and his three companions travelling to the West in search of Buddhist scriptures. The play was adapted from the tale Journey to the West, one of the four great classical Chinese novels, and consists of no less than two hundred and forty acts! 
Today, audiences generally watch Peking opera in concentrated form, the zhezi xi which is a one-act performance of a play that originally featured multiple acts. It is the highlight of a drama that people never get tired of watching. As a basic rule, a successful full-length opera contains one or two acts that can be staged separately as a zhezi xi
Peking opera plays can be categorised as either “civil plays” (wenxi) or “martial plays” (wuxi). Civil plays focus on the relationships between the characters, and tell stories of love and intrigue. In these types of plays it is principally dan and older roles that appear on the stage. One famous excerpt from a civil play is, for example, Farewell My Concubine which portrays the last moments of a conqueror and his favourite concubine. Martial plays generally focus on action, acrobatics and martial arts; young sheng, jing and chou used to be the main characters. At the Crossroads, a highly entertaining piece which features blind combat, is a fine example of a martial play.

About the performers

Established in January 1955, the China National Peking Opera Company (CNPOC) is a national organisation of performing arts directly under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China. The first President of the CNPOC was the great maestro Mei Lanfang. Today the CNPOC consists of three performance companies, the Stage Art Center and the Mei Lanfang Grand Theatre.

Since its foundation, the company has brought together a large number of outstanding performing artists, playwrights, directors, composers and set designers who enjoy a lofty reputation both at home and abroad, among them Li Shaochun, Yuan Shihai, Ye Shenlan, Du Jinfang, Ajia, Weng Ouhong and Fan Junhong. With its huge number of talents, the CNPOC has emerged as a Peking opera performance organisation with tremendous advantages.

Over the course of sixty years, the CNPOC has inherited, created and staged more than five hundred traditional, newly-written historical and contemporary Peking opera plays with various themes and formats. It has developed an artistic spirit of inheritance, innovation, adaptations from other artistic forms and well-portrayed characters. Moreover, it has created an artistic style with rich content, profound thoughts, various schools and a well-balanced cast.

More than fifty plays and over two hundred members of the CNPOC have won awards in national and international performance competitions. In recent years, it has always been on the list of winners of China’s major cultural awards, such as the Splendor Award (for professional theatrical art works), the Best Works Award, the China Peking Opera Festival Gold Award, Works of Excellence on the Nation’s Stage, the Mei Lanfang Gold Award and the Plum Blossom Award among others.

Cultural exchange is one of the major tasks of the CNPOC. It has been organising performances around the world, visiting over fifty countries and regions on five continents, and has earned an international reputation for excellence. Through these activities, the CNPOC has made contributions to promote Sino-international cultural exchanges as well as enhancing the friendship between the people of China and the people of the world.

Age category 6+

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