Saturday, May 13, 2017

Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe (浙江婺剧团) ~ Review

(Click on images to enlarge)
The Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe (浙江婺剧团) ‒ Legends of Water – was presented at Bab Makina in partnership with the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China

With a history spanning more than four centuries, Wu Opera originated in Wuzhou (now Jinhua), in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province. While artists from Anhui Province traveled north to perform in Beijing in the late eighteenth century and laid the foundation for Peking Opera, Wu Opera represented another branch from the same root, which had traveled eastward two centuries earlier.

Founded in 1956, the Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe has both revived traditional works and created new works. The troupe’s performances represent a synthesis of music, dance, and acrobatics. The troupe has performed in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, France, Germany, Japan, Romania, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.
When I hear the sound of its gongs and drums, my legs start to dance!’ ~ Chinese saying

The troupe invited to Bab al Makina was founded in 1956 and has actively participated in historical research into Wu Opera. It has collected more than a thousand works and re-established associated crafts such as masks, costumes and make-up.

Controlling a dragon maybe harder than it looks

Tonight's performance started on a high note with the extraordinary dragon dance the opening night audience had seen a preview of. The high speed manipulation of the dragon was flawless and made look effortless, despite its complexity. The cast worked as one in a display of polished discipline.

This was followed by a sword fight with some great tumbling acrobatics, perfectly performed with accompaniment of a six person orchestra who provided sharp, percussive, punctuation and musical bridges between set pieces.

The erhu player

Then there was a dramatic change of pace with a young woman playing the erhu (two stringed fiddle). This was followed by another solo from a man dressed in a quasi-military uniform. He opened with a high pitched trumpet and switched to small pipes and finally used his own voice in a vocal display of extreme high pitch - astonishing! The audience lapped it up.

The Monkey King turned things upside down

It was time for comic relief and for those in the audience unfamiliar with Chinese traditional music, this was welcome. The arrival of the Monkey King and the only stage prop used all night, a simple table, heralded a long display of more tumbling and baton twirling as good and evil battled it out.

In another interlude, the orchestra of five men and one woman emerged from the shadows and took centre stage for a classical piece followed by a Moroccan tune, albeit in Chinese classical style. The audience recognised it and applauded warmly.

The high-pitched tones of the singing, the perfect traditional makeup and the extravagant costuming held most of the audiences attention. In the end, it mattered little that the production had a circus like quality or that the music was not to every Moroccan's taste, for the rich imagery, the well-defined characters, the backdrop projections of Chinese paintings and the battles and struggles that ensued were the right ingredients for a "night at the opera".

Photographs and review: Sandy McCutcheon


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