Inscribed onto the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of China, Gan Opera is a genre with a wide variety of vocal styles, the result of more than five hundred years of evolution. The three main types are gaoqiang, with components of yiyangqiang and qingyangqiang; tanqiang, with components of erhuang, xipi, wennanci, laobazi, etc.; and kunqiang.
The selections for performance are classics in Gan Opera. In The Injustice Done to Dou E, Tu Linghui, dubbed ‘Number One Performer of the Flowing Sleeves Act’, will externalize the protagonist’s sense of injustice through the masterly skills of ‘whirling long hair while kneeling and turning’ and ‘stutter steps’, which can only be found in qingyangqiang. In The Story of the Wooden Hairpin, one of the ‘Great Four’ works in Southern Opera, the female lead in dan roles needs to have an excellent command of the ‘flowing sleeves’ to express the internal drama of the protagonist. Studying Together at Night is an excerpt unique to the Gan Opera version of The Butterfly Lovers, and it describes the warmth of friendship and the love growing between the two through the sweet vocal delivery. Wandering in the Garden and Waking from a Dream is sung in the Jiangxi style of yiyangqiang, harking back to the Jiangxi background of the original librettist, Tang Xianzu.
Hailed as one of the ‘Great Four’ works in Southern Opera, The Story of the Wooden Hairpin is a traditional repertoire of Gan Opera in qingyangqiang. The scene Plunging into the River is deeply moving and filled with delicate touch where the dan (female lead) role would employ masterly skills like ‘twelve feet of flowing sleeves’ and ‘somersaulting from chair to land on one’s back’ to externalize her emotions. With demanding performance for the female actor in terms of singing and acting, it is a highly representative solo scene in Gan Opera.
Senior licentiate’s daughter Qian Yulian and impoverished scholar Wang Shipeng were lovers since childhood. With a wooden hairpin as betrothal gift, Shipeng asked for Yulian’s hand in marriage. After they were married, Shipeng went to sit for the imperial civil examination and came out first. Prime Minister Moqi wanted Shipeng to marry into his family as his son-in-law but Shipeng refused. He was detained as a result. Meanwhile, wealthy man Sun Ruquan coveted Yulian for her beauty and secretly distorted Shipeng’s letter as divorce notice. Seeing this, Yulian’s stepmother forced Yulian to remarry Sun. In defiance, Yulian threw herself into the river but was fortunately saved. After going through trials and tribulations, the couple was finally reunited after many years.
Cast: Yang Kaizhen, Shen Huailin, Sui Xiaorong, Chen Xiaoxia, Li Weide
Madame Cui forced his impoverished husband Zhu Maichen to divorce her and remarried Zhang Shixiang but when she learnt later Zhu has won the top scholar title in the imperial examination, she regretted deeply. One night, she had an elusive vision of receiving phoenix coronet and robes of aurora sent by the imperial court. She was overwhelmed with joy and put them on to show off her glory. She woke to find it only a dream.
The performance of Madame Cuiis a combination of the sheng, dan, jing and chou roles. It is a highlight of Gan Opera tanqiang plays.
Cast: Huang Haihong, Zhan Qi
Zhu Yingtai went to study in Hangzhou disguised as a man. She and Liang Shanbo became the best of friends. They studied together one spring night and discussed the topic on disasters caused by women in history. Shanbo held a narrow and one-sided view but Yingtai was candid and intelligent in her defence for women. Shanbo was deeply impressed by her eloquence. After they departed, Yingtai appeared in a dream singing and dancing to pour out her innermost feelings. This excerpt is unique to the Gan Opera version of The Butterfly Lovers, portraying the warmth of friendship and love growing between the two through the sweet vocal delivery in wennanci.
Cast: Zhan Hong, Shen Huailin
Originates from the story of the Yang Warriors, this excerpt is a tanqiang repertoire transplanted from Chu Opera by the Gan Opera Theatre in 1954. Through the masterly skills of the daomadan (female warrior) role and humours of the hualian (painted face) role, the wits of Yang Paifeng and the sincerity of Meng Liang are presented in a vivid and fun-filled manner. With the Liao invasion, the border was in imminent danger. Meng Liang was ordered to go back to Tian Bo Mansion to seek military aid. Yang Paifeng, the kitchen maid volunteered to help but Meng despised her and challenged her in a fight. Meng lost as a result and was deeply impressed. The two set off together to the border to resist the enemy invasion.
Cast: Huang Haihong, Li Weide
Du Liniang was the daughter of the Nanan prefect Du Bao in Song dynasty. Feeling bored and lonely from staying within her boudoir, she went out one day with her maid Chunxiang to tour the garden and enjoy the spring landscape. Seeing the beautiful scenery, she was overwhelmed with emotions. Retreating to her chamber tired, she dozed off and dreamed of meeting a young scholar named Liu Mengmei. The two fell in love and met secretly in the garden. When she woke, she felt lost and perplexed. Her condition upset her mother who reprimanded her and forbid her to go to the garden again. However, she could not suppress her emotions and sought to retrieve the lost dream.
Adapted from The Peony Pavilion, the story took place in today’s Dayu County in Jiangxi Province. It is sung in the Jiangxi style of yiyangqiang, harking back to the Jiangxi background of the original librettist, Tang Xianzu.
Cast: Tu Linghui (Guest), Shen Huailin
Rogue Zhang Luer intended to poison Madam Cai in order to force her widow daughter-in-law Dou E to remarry him but his father took the tainted soup by mistake and died as a result. To wash off his guilt, Zhang accused Dou E of murdering his father and bribed the magistrate Tao Wu into sentencing Dou E to death. Before the execution, Dou E foretold snow in mid-summer, three years of drought and blood splashing on white silk to prove her innocence. All the three things came true. Dou E’s father Dou Tianzhang later became the Inspector General in Chuzhou. Dou E’s spirit appeared to ask for redress of the injustice and finally the wrong done to her was avenged.
Gan opera The Injustice Done to Dou E is adapted from the zaju The Moving Story of Dou E by Guan Hanqing in Yuan dynasty with reference from the chuanqi Tale of the Golden Lock in Ming dynasty. The protagonist’s emotions are fully displayed through the various styles of vocal delivery in qingyangqiang where the civil drama is enacted in a passionate and robust manner. It is a unique signature piece by Gan Opera top artist Tu Linghui.
Cast: Tu Linghui (Guest), Chen Xiaoxia, Li Weide, Li Peng, Zhan Qi
A fine young Gan Opera actress and a disciple of Tu Linghui, Yang graduated from Jiangxi Provincial Art Academy specializing in the qingyi (virtuous and elite women) role. With solid foundation training and a clear round voice, she commands an elegant style on stage. The Embroidery Girl, Qin Xianglian and White Snake are some of the repertoires she plays frequently. In 2010, she participated in the cultural arts performance at the Shanghai Expo and had an outstanding performance playing the lead role in an excerpt from The Resurrection.
A National Class-two Performer specializing in the laodan (old female) role, Chen has won the Class-two Performance Award in the 2nd Jiangxi Yuming Flower Theatre Festival (1989)with Defying the Imperial Edict and the Class-three Performance Award in the 1st Jiangxi Art Festival (1999) with The Resurrection Postscript.
A National Class-two Performer specializing in the sheng (male lead) role, Shen has won the Class-one Performance Award in the 3rd Jiangxi Yuming Flower Theatre Festival (1992) with Death in Buddhism, the Class-one Performance Award in the 1st Jiangxi Art Festival (1999) with The Resurrection Postscript and the Class-one Performance Award in Jiangxi Youth Theatre Competition (2002) with Jade Dragonfly.