Mid-Autumn Festival meets Peking Opera: Interview with stage masters
Updated 18:50, 30-Sep-2020
By Ye Qing

You may have been used to stories about the moon, rabbits, and beautiful fairies, but the Mid-Autumn Festival is more than just old stories and moon cakes. There are also many good Chinese operas especially created for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

CGTN spoke to notable Peking Opera masters Yu Kuizhi and Li Shengsu ahead of the holiday. During the interval between their performances of the Mid-Autumn Festival-themed Peking Opera "The Palace of Eternal Life," the two artists discussed their performance and its relationship to the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The moon and the festival

Peking Opera is the most dominant form of Chinese opera, and combines music, vocal performances, miming, dance, and acrobatics. There are many seasonal Peking Opera plays – adapted for the different holidays including the Spring Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

"I think the play 'The Palace of Eternal Life' is suitable for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is one of the important chapters in Peking Opera Master Mei Lanfang's 'Yang Yuhuan and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang'," said Yu Kuizhi, a famed Peking Opera artist with 48 years of experience.

The file photo of "Yang Yuhuan and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang" performed by Peking Opera artists Li Shengsu (L) and Yu Kuizhi (R). /China National Peking Opera Company

The file photo of "Yang Yuhuan and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang" performed by Peking Opera artists Li Shengsu (L) and Yu Kuizhi (R). /China National Peking Opera Company

In this story, the two are talking under the moon in a classic scene. And the moon is an indispensable element and symbol of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

"'Yang Yuhuan and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang' is a classic Peking Opera work with relatively grand scenes. 'The Palace of Eternal Life,' which is part of the classic, shows the scene of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and Yang Yuhuan expressing their love for each other under the moon, and their mutual wish to be together forever. I think the play is worth seeing during the Mid-Autumn Festival," Yu added.

In addition, "Chang'e Flies to the Moon" is also one of the important Peking Opera performances in the Mid-Autumn Festival. In 1915, Mei Lanfang, a notable Peking Opera master, created and performed the drama to welcome the Mid-Autumn Festival, which was also his first costume opera which combines a stage setting with song and dance.

Some misunderstandings

Because of the combination of visual aesthetics and difficult movements, Peking Opera has been inherited and passed on to this day. With the development of technology, people in more and more countries are also interested in this art.

He pointed out that many people have the misconception that foreign audiences cannot understand Peking Opera. In fact, if the plot introduction is well conducted, the audience can fully understand Peking Opera.

"We did more than 10 'Legend of the White Snake' shows on an overseas tour. The foreign audiences didn't quite understand the show at first, but towards the end of the tour, there were no empty seats left in the theater. At the end of the show, they tossed roses onto the stage, lots of them. They thought it was so amazing that the Chinese opera could be so much and so good to watch and listen to," said Li Shengsu, a famous Peking Opera artist, also the performing partner of Yu Kuizhi.

The younger generation

The development of Peking Opera in China also has gradually become better, Yu said. "Many of the performers at the China National Peking Opera Company are born in the '80s, '90s, and even '00s. Most of them are young people with excellent qualifications, whether it's their physical qualifications, appearance or voice," said Yu.

"Peking Opera is a comprehensive art," said Li Shengsu. "We need to study our art with great concentration meet the audience's requirements and attract them. And, opera actors really need to be in good shape. The costumes, headpieces, and props in Peking Opera performances are very heavy. Even the makeup in Peking Opera has special techniques for the eyebrows and foreheads, which puts a lot of pressure on the actors," Li explained.

Even though learning Peking Opera is a painful process, the faith in the hearts of these young performers is strong, she said.

The file photo of "Man Jiang Hong" performed by Peking Opera artists Li Shengsu (L) and Yu Kuizhi (R). /China National Peking Opera Company

The file photo of "Man Jiang Hong" performed by Peking Opera artists Li Shengsu (L) and Yu Kuizhi (R). /China National Peking Opera Company

"There are no shortcuts in Peking Opera, and every step needs to be taken seriously," added Li.

During the National Day holiday, many Peking Opera performances prepared by the China National Peking Opera Company have almost sold out, and tickets for some popular performances were hard to come by as well.

Modern technology enables these classics to be passed down and preserved better and also enables more young generations to be exposed to this traditional and classical art form of China, even explore it by themselves.

"I'm happy to see that young people are using today's social media platforms to deliver positive energy. I often tell young people around me that we should make full use of such platforms to spread and promote the art we love," said Yu Kuizhi.

Reporters: Ye Qing, Liang Si

Editor: Ye Qing

Videographer: Liu Kaifang

Video editor: Liang Si

Cover image designer: Gao Hongmei

Executive producer: Zhang Xiaohe

Producer: Si Nan

Supervisor: Zhang Shilei