China has more than 300 kinds of folk operas. In addition to the world-famous Peking Opera and Kunqu Opera, Chuanju Opera, which originated in Sichuan province in the early 17th century, has a big following in South China.
Chongqing Chuanju Opera Company will stage its latest production Li Yaxian for the Beijing Drama and Dance Festival in Beijing on Nov. 18 and 19.
Adapted from a folk tale in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the play tells of the tragic love story between the courtesan Li Yaxian and Zheng Yuanhe, son of a high-ranking family. Zheng goes to take the national exam in the capital, where he falls in love with Li. The madam gets all of Zheng's money and Zheng's father is so ashamed and angry with what his son has done that he gives him a good beating and kicks him out the family.
Zheng has to make a living by singing in the streets and again meets Li, who supports him as he prepares for the exam. Zheng, though, has lost interest in taking the exam and one day jokes that Li has such charming eyes that he would never leave her to take any exam. In a ghastly twist, Li destroys her own eyes so as to persuade Zheng to go. Greatly shocked, he finally goes to the capital and passes the exam but when he returns to marry Li, she flees
"This is traditional Chuanju Opera but we've made many improvements to attract today's audience," says director Xie Ping'an, "Retaining trademark Chuanju opera music like gaoqiang and including unique Chuanju stunts and witty actions, the play features fresh costumes, lighting and settings."
The title role is performed by award-winning actress Shen Tiemei, the President of the Chongqing Chuanju Opera Company.
Chuanju Opera has five main tunes: gaoqiang, huqin, tanxi, kunqu and dengxi, of which gaoqiang ("high tune") seems to have the richest and most distinctive Sichuan colors.
Chuanju Opera has an outstanding literary repertoire, reflected in witty, humorous and lively dialogue. It features amazing stunts, with immortals who open a third eye on their foreheads to showcase magic powers; jumping through burning hoops, hiding swords and spitting fire.