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Yueju Opera Gets A New Lease of Life


The new Dream of the Red Chamber is staged at Zhengyici theater, a traditional wooden theater with a more than 300-year history.

Dream of the Red Chamber is one of the most popular films in China and has been viewed more than a billion times since it was made in 1962.

Based on the performance of Yueju Opera masters Xu Yulan and Wang Wenjuan, the film captivated audiences from all over China. Among them is Wei Xiangdong, a director who was so inspired by the film that he decided to devote himself to Yueju Opera, a traditional Chinese opera from East China's Zhejiang province.

"All my works are my tributes to the two great Yueju Opera masters, who made an unsurpassable milestone with Dream of the Red Chamber," says Wei, who just staged his production of the play at Zhengyici, a traditional wooden theater in Beijing with a more than 300-year history.

Five years ago, Wei also directed two versions of Yueju Opera films based on Dream of the Red Chamber. One featured a Chinese orchestra and the other had a Western symphony orchestra.

"This new theater adaptation is a condensed version, with the best of the arias from the original work arranged along the main plot into a 90-minute play that's much shorter than the full version," Wei says. "It is designed to be attractive to even first-timers."

The Zhejiang dialect used in Yueju Opera often makes it hard for northern Chinese to appreciate. But Wei believes Yueju Opera has a universal appeal because its melodious arias can touch the softest part of people's hearts.

Zhengyici, which used to be a guild hall of Zhejiang province, seems a very suitable venue for Yueju Opera. Wei has made many arrangements to bring out the best of the stage at Zhengyici. For example, on the stage's two levels, he had the scenes of heroine Lin Daiyu burning her poetry and hero Jia Baoyu proposing to another woman, Xue Baochai - both happening simultaneously. The scene creates a multidimensional sense and strong contrast.

"When I performed at the ancient Zhengyici theater, I felt that I was close to the original set of the story of Dream of the Red Chamber," says Chen Lanfang, who played the role of Lin.

"I think among our audiences, there are fans of Yueju Opera, of the classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber and of the ancient Zhengyici Theater."

The Zhengyici production of Dream of the Red Chamber is one of many traditional operas set in intimate spaces that are gaining popularity, like the Kunqu Opera Peony Pavilion at the Imperial Granary of Beijing.

Wei believes such efforts help to safeguard the art of traditional Chinese operas.

"Chinese operas may not have a large number of followers like before, but people who pursue a high-quality life are embracing the art," Wei says.

Editor: Fang Li