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Opera star Zhang Huoding returns

Updated: 2014-04-29 15:07

Butterfly Lovers is one of Zhang Huoding's signature performances. Photo provided to China Daily

Zhang Huoding is enough of an introvert to have been shocked when a young woman suddenly dropped to her knees in front of her after elbowing her way through the crowd. "You're back at last!" she exclaimed, grasping the actress' hands.

The woman is Cao Huan, 22, a die-hard fan of Peking Opera. She is especially attached to Zhang, one of China's Peking Opera stars who has been absent from the stage since 2010.

Zhang is planning a comeback show in Beijing on April 26, bringing the traditional repertoire, Suolin Purse, as well as a modified version of Butterfly Lovers, a tragic Chinese love story in which two lovers are transformed into butterflies, both dying for love.

"I took a day off work for today's event. I fell in love with Zhang's singing when I was in high school, but she quit quickly after that. I've waited for this moment for years," Cao said.

"She hasn't changed a bit," she added.

Indeed, Zhang has maintained her appearance - and even the habit of being bashful among strangers - just like four years ago, when she decided to leave the stage because of pregnancy.

After performing one of the most-welcomed pieces in her repertoire, Tears on a Waste Mountain, and giving three encores to hundreds of ardent fans as she said goodbye one night in Shanghai in 2010, the actress of the Cheng school had removed herself from public view.

The school of Cheng, one of the four famous schools for dan (female) roles in Peking Opera, was created by Cheng Yanqiu in the first half of the 20th century. Famous for its intermittent singing style and frequent changes in rhythm, this style is believed to best elaborate the character's inner world, and it is especially good to mimic women's sobs and whimpers. That is why many works of the repertoire of Cheng school are tragic stories.

"I never thought of coming back. Taking care of a small baby has taken up most of my time and energy. I did not even exercise my voice during these years," Zhang says in a low and gentle voice.

Once the only self-supported student at a local Peking Opera school in Tianjin - who had to cover the tuition fee on her own at a time when the government still provided subsidies to students - Zhang is now the most beloved actress of the Cheng school in China.

"But sometimes people have to take a step back, take a breath and re-examine whether there are any possibilities of improvement," Zhang says. "To this end, campus life is a good choice."

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