A Night At The Opera* and Opera, My View

This post has two parts -the first is Geoff’s, followed by Terry’s.

A Night At The Opera*

Last night, along with approximately 1500 young adolescents, we were treated to a Night At The Opera*, courtesy of  Jiaxing Senior Secondary School and The Provincial Troupe of Zhejiang. Let me say before I get into my review, that going wasn’t high on my list of things to do – after all, I was 90% through The Last Refuge. Anyway, as the spouse of the Principal, I guess I had a responsibility to attend. When we arrived, Terry was immediately escorted to a seat of honour next to Principal Xu. I was happy to be left near the rear – but then David came back on got me and I too was able to enjoy a seat of honour.

As well as David, there was another teacher of English and between the two of them, they provided us with an interpretation of what was happening in The Lotus Lantern. Briefly: woman god has an affair with mortal and gets pregnant, has baby; evil god brother steals baby and forces mother to return to god world; son is raised by monkey; son gets sad and wants to know who his parents are; father finds him and tells him he is father; son fights and vanquishes bad guys sent by evil brother; mother returns and joins father and son in heartfelt reunion. The end.

Okay, now you know the story. Let me provide some perspective. You have 1500 adolescents – in a crowd of 1500 randomly chosen adults, how many do you think would willingly choose to spend an evening at the opera? Exactly. I do want to say that the 20 students in the BC Offshore program were very well behaved, throughout the 90 minute performance (did I mention that it was 90 minutes long, no intermissions and in a hot gym?). Also, I would estimate that another 75% of the students were respectful and attentive. If they had any difficulty following the singing, (after all, it wasn’t likely it was the sound system Elton John is bringing on Nov. 23 to Shanghai which we are attending), they could always fall back on the Chinese subtitles on the reader boards on either side of the stage (well, the mat on the gym floor).

I would imagine, though, that in looking at Principal Xu, he wasn’t impressed with the number of students who kept getting up and going out to the foyer or the WC. (I do believe that they couldn’t actually exit the building – locked? guards? who knows, but they were all there at the end.) Perhaps he will speak to them later. He really is a good principal and as Terry said, she would have been upset.

Now, about the performance. I admit (grudgingly) that I don’t know much about Chinese opera – or any other opera for that matter, but I don’t think that people are supposed to sing without ungritting their teeth and then going up an octave to boot, which is how I heard it. Go ahead try and sing Mary Had a Little Lamb with your teeth clenched and go up an octave to boot. See?

The supporting musicians were good – I could tell since they (and the speakers) were only 25-30 feet away from me. Also they let me know when it was over when, even before the singers had finished taking their bow, they were packing up to leave.

Despite all of this, I quite enjoyed the evening. I have included a short (2:04) video of part of the performance – come on watch it,  I was there for 90!!

Opera, My View

Geoff failed to mention the best part:  The evil brother sent a dog to steal the baby.  Turns out the dog is one heck of an acrobat!

I had never seen a Chinese opera before and realized quickly that the mannerisms of the male cast are abrupt–a quick snaps of the head to face a different direction indicates concern– sad emotions are conveyed by wiping of pretend tears and downcast shoulders.  Women, by contrast, are fluid and graceful.  All the women in this show were either the goddess (the word for “female god,” Geoff) or maids of the goddess and all were exceptionally graceful and lovely.  I was glad for the interpreter, although after awhile, I was able to fill in most of the details on my own.  Once the fight scenes began, towards the end, they had the kids’ attention–and ours!  Incredible acrobatics by all the soldiers, son and dog.  Many back and forward flips, tricky sword play and footwork by our hero to avoid death by spear!  The dog, by the way, was played by a young man.

The one negative aspect in the production was the singing.  The actors actually change their voices to be high, grating and shrill.  Awful!  This is what drove most kids out of their seats, looking for an escape, I think.  Really appalling and at high volume!  Other than that, ti was a most entertaining evening.  Would I go again?  Let’s just say I’ve checked it off my bucket list.

*With apologies to The Marx Brothers

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