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Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Centre

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The Legend of the White Snake

The excerpt On Broken Bridge from The Legend of the White Snake is exemplary of how Wu Opera crosses the line between the ‘martial’ and the ‘civil’ repertories. In it, the actor playing Xu Xian needs to deliver acrobatic stunts like ‘crouching stance’, ‘the headlong flip’, ‘rolling off the back’ and ‘tiger pouncing’. As for the actors playing the White Snake and Green Snake, they need to do dance and stylized movements such as ‘the snake slither’, ‘the serpentine body’ etc. to portray their original beastly form. The playlet therefore has been praised as ‘the number one Bridge’ in Chinese theatre.

The White Snake has been practicing Taoism for more than a thousand years, but loneliness makes her yearn for the mortal world. So, together with the Green Snake, she goes to Hangzhou where she meets Xu Xian on the West Lake. It is love at the first sight and they become husband and wife. Monk Fahai of Jinshan Temple knows the true form of the two snakes, and wants to separate the White Snake (known as ‘Bai Suzhen’ in her human form) and Xu Xian. Now Xu is of a suspicious character and accepts Fahai’s suggestion to make Suzhen appear in her snake form by giving her realgar wine. But when she does, he is so shocked that he dies. Suzhen saves him by going to Kunlun Mountain to steal the celestial herb at the threat of her life. Yet after Xu is revived, Fahai lures him to the Jinshan Temple and keeps him there. The White Snake and the Green Snake arrive and engage in a battle of wizardry with the monk. They flood the temple grounds with the water of West Lake, but then the White Snake has to withdraw because of her pregnant state. Xu Xian escapes from the temple and finds Suzhen by the side of the Broken Bridge. The Green Snake, disgusted with his betrayal, threatens to kill him in her rage, but is stopped by the White Snake. The husband and wife make up and are reunited.

Cast: Wu Wenling, Yang Xiayun, Wang Xiarong, Lou Sheng




Catching Pang De in the Water

The martial arts scene in this operatic excerpt uses slow motion with music accompaniment, so it becomes a dance. There is also an acrobatic stunt as highlight. The actors performing Guan Yu, Zhou Cang and Guan Ping are given highly dramatic personae that are redolent of sculptures.

When the two cities of Xiangyang and Fancheng are under attack by an army led by Guan Yu, Cao Cao appoints Yu Jin as commander and Pang De as vanguard to lead the Wei army for defence. Pang De is such a good warrior that he is going to defeat Guan Yu, but Yu Jin, who has always been jealous of Pang, calls for retreat. Guan returns to camp and studies the book on the art of war to look for army formations that the enemy might use. He is inspired to use the flooding water of Xiang River by opening the locks. Cao Cao’s army is trapped in the water, and Yu Jin and Pang De are taken captive by Guan.

Cast: Chen Xingshun, Zhou Hongwei, Wu Yanxing, Du Lujun


The Boundary Pass

This is a famous piece in the martial arts repertoire. Apart from the army formations and martial arts routines, the actors need to perform with aplomb acrobatic skills such as somersaults, fighting, falling and pouncing as the plot requires. The high-flung emotions are highly moving.

Led by Su Baotong, a northern tribal army is invading Tang land. The Tang emperor appoints Qin Huaiyu as commander and Luo Tong as the vanguard. The two sides meet at the Boundary Pass and engage in a fierce battle. Qin and Su are wounded, while Luo is engaged in endless combat as the squadron leaders on the enemy side are taking turns to fight with him. Wang Bochao pierces Luo’s belly with a long spear, and his guts run out. Luo gets into a rage and even though suffering in agony, he winds the guts round his waist and keeps on fighting, finally managing to kill Wang himself before returning to camp to die.

Cast: Zhou Hongwei, Chen Xiaojian, Hu Dongxiao


Burning Zidu Alive

In this playlet, the masterly acts of ‘quick change of face’ and ‘spitting fire’ are included. The actor’s face changes colour in the blink of an eye to depict Gongsun Zidu’s terror.

The State of Xu is conducting an offensive attack on the State of Zheng. Prince Zheng appoints Ying Kaoshu as commander of the army, but Zidu refuses to accept this and appeals at the imperial court. The Prince orders them to compete to win the title, and Ying wins. Zidu is to be his deputy. Zidu’s attempts at killing Ying on the battlefield fail. But when Ying defeats the enemy by killing their generals and taking their flag to the city wall of the capital of the State of Xu, he is killed by an arrow shot by Zidu in hiding. Zidu returns to Zheng victorious. He is shocked to see Ying’s ghost before him. Even on reporting to the Prince of Zheng about the fighting, the words coming out of his mouth are those of Ying’s. At the end of the report, Ying’s ghost spits out fire and burns Zidu alive.

Cast: Lou Sheng, Chen Jianxu, Tao Yongjing, Fu Chuanming, Dong Guojian


The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea

There is a saying in Chinese, “like the Eight Immortals crossing the sea, just do it your way.” It refers to the legend of the Eight Immortals who have acquired magical powers through practicing Taoism. In this operatic excerpt, the actors need to demonstrate fast yet aesthetically pleasing routines and stylized movements which, at the same time, must show the individuality of the eight of them. The show promises to be a feast for the eye.

The Gold Fish Fairy of the Eastern Sea is charming and beautiful, and she always roams the waters with fellow fairies. One day, the Eight Immortals have just returned from the birthday banquet of the Queen Mother of Heaven and are tipsy with the wine they drink. They happen to cross the path of the Gold Fish Fairy. Lu Dongbin makes a rude remark and the Fairy is offended. In her rage, she wields her magical powers and the Eight Immortals are not her match. It is only after Zhang Guolao apologizes to her formally on behalf of all eight of them and presents her with a gift that she relents and lets them cross the Eastern Sea.

Cast: Yang Xiayun, Chen Xingshun




The Meeting by the River

This operatic excerpt features highly flamboyant stylistic movements and exaggerated expressions, such as elevation, the use of the ‘wings’ on the headgear etc., to depict the personality of the protagonist Zhou Yu, who is a prideful, stubborn man always thinking highly of himself.

The story takes place in the last years of the Eastern Han period, on the eve of the Battle at Chibi, when three kingdoms hold sway over the Central Plains. Zhou Yu of Wu wants to get rid of Liu Bei of Shu. So he invites Liu to cross the river to attend a banquet on a pretext. Liu knows of his ulterior motive, but in order to uphold the peaceful front so that the kingdoms of Wu and Shu can join hands against Cao Cao’s Wei, he asked Guan Yu to be his bodyguard and goes to the banquet after all. On seeing Zhou, Liu tries to talk sense into him not to create a political crisis. Zhou fails in his scheme and at the same time suffers from his own ire.

Cast: Lou Sheng, Dong Guojian, Wu Yanxing, Chen Xiaojian

Peony Rises to the Challenge

This is a playlet filled with witty dialogues, in the form of bantering between a mortal and an immortal. The actors portray the wisdom and quick wit of ordinary folks through adept singing.

Lu Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals, goes to the mortal world to amuse himself. On passing by the Iron Plank Bridge in Hangzhou, he sees a herbalist store with a sign that says, “Whatever herb you want, we have it”. He is miffed and goes into the shop on the pretext of buying herbs, ready for challenge. The shopowner’s daughter, Peony, is clever and quick with her tongue. Although Lu gives her seemingly impossible questions, she manages to offer a good answer every time. Lu, who is always smugly pleased with himself, has to admit defeat in the end and flee with embarrassment.

Cast: Zhu Yuanhao, Yang Ting

Executing His Own Son

This operatic excerpt is essentially a hybrid of Anhui Opera and Peking Opera, as it shares the storyline, theatrical techniques and even the xipi vocal style. But there the similarities end. This Wu Opera version has different melodies, percussive points and accompanying instruments. The actor playing the protagonist, Mu Guiying, needs to have excellent mime skills, from the moment she enters with her ‘horse’, making an impressive entrance, to handing over her family heirloom of the staff made of ‘Dragon Vanquishing Wood’ to Marshal Yang, she has to show virtuosic skills in singing, delivery of lines, acting and martial arts to ensure a smooth delivery and give a vivid portrayal.

The story is taken from the saga of the Yang family. Marshal Yang is defeated by Mu Guiying and returns to camp on a rampage. His son, Zongbao, is however enamoured of Guiying and is ready to marry her. The Marshal thinks his son has violated the martial law and decides to have him executed as dictated by martial law. On hearing this, Dowager She (the grandmother of Zongbao) and the Eighth Prince plead on Zongbao’s behalf, but the Marshal is unmoved. It so happened that Guiying has decided to join the Song forces, and she confronts the Marshal in her sassy, indomitable way. The Marshal cannot but accept her as his daughter-in-law and sets his son, Zongbao free in the end.

Cast: Chen Meilan, Huang Weilong, Zhu Yuanhao, Zheng Lifang

Mu Guiying Breaking Through the Army Formation in Front of the Palace

This operatic excerpt is the last scene and climactic ending of the full-length opera production, Mu Guiying. It shows off the outstanding feature of Wu Opera, which are spectacular martial art scenes. There is an awe-inspiring grandeur to it, with the eponym character showing not only excellent singing and martial arts skills but also a dazzling array of gravity-defying somersaults and actions that deserve to be warmly applauded.

Mui Guiying puts on her full armour and enters the battlefield. Undaunted by the military formation that the enemy from the north has set up, she valiantly leads her army to break it down. With her spears, she beats Xiao Tianzuo, the general on the enemy’s side, before she returns in victory.

Cast: Yang Xiayun, Lou Sheng, Chen Xingshun


Chen Meilan
Chen Meilan is a famous artist in Wu Opera and a National Class One Performer specialised in dan (female role). She was the winner of many awards including the 6th and 23rd Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre and the 10th Wenhua Award for Performance. She is currently Chair of the Panel of Artistic Advisers for the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Centre. Her prized repertoire includes The Legend of the White Snake, Mu Guiying, The Woman from Kunlun, Lament of the Wujiang River, The Beating and Incarceration.

Zhu Yuanhao
Zhu Yuanhao is a National Class One Performer specialized in laosheng (old male role). He was trained under the Peking Opera virtuoso, Zhao Ruquan. He has won many awards, including a Class One Award for Acting and an Outstanding Performance Award at the Zhejiang Theatre Festival, a Performance Award at the National Showcase of Chinese Theatre – the Modern Repertory, and a Performance Award at the 9th China Arts Festival. He is currently Artistic Director of the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Centre. His prized repertoire includes Lament of the Wujiang River, A Distant Tribute to Apricot Blossom Village, The Woman from Kunlun etc.

Huang Weilong
Huang Weilong is a National Class One Performer specialised in laosheng (old male role). He has won many awards, including a Class One Award at the first Xiaobaihua Awards in Zhejiang, a Gold Award at the Contest of Foundation Skills in Wu Opera in Zhejiang, an Outstanding Performance Award at the 8th Zhejiang Theatre Festival, and a ‘Golden Peacock’ Outstanding Performance Award at the Theatre Showcase of Ethnic Minority Groups. His prized repertoire includes Executing His Own Son, The Legend of the White Snake, Number One in Jiangnan etc.

Zheng Lifang
Zheng Lifang is a National Class One Performer specialized in laodan (old female role). She was trained under the Wu Opera virtuosi Xu Ruying and Shao Xiaochun. She has won many awards, including the title award at the Xiaobaihua Awards for Traditional Theatre in Zhejiang, a Performance Award at the 9th Zhejiang Theatre Festival, a Gold Award in the Specialism Section at the 3rd Contest of Foundation Skills in Wu Opera in Zhejiang, and a ‘Golden Peacock’ Outstanding Performance Award at the Theatre Showcase of Ethnic Minority Groups.

Yang Xiayun
Yang Xiayun is a National Class One Performer specialized in daomadan (sword-wielding and riding female role). She was trained under Chen Meilan, and is a multiple winner of the Class One Award at the Contest of Foundation Skills in Wu Opera in Zhejiang. Other accolades include an Outstanding Performance Award for Young Actors at the 8th Zhejiang Theatre Festival, the Grand Prix for Performance at the 11th Theatre Festival, a ‘Golden Peacock’ Award and an Outstanding Performance Award at the Theatre Showcase of Ethnic Minority Groups of China.

5-6/7 Fri-Sat 7:30pm
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6/7 Sat 2:30pm
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Auditorium, Kwai Tsing Theatre

• With Chinese and English surtitles.
• Please refer to the ‘Extension Activities’ page for details of other extension activities.
• Each performance lasts approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Click here to download the transcript.