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Centuries-old Qi opera to be staged at Chinese Opera Festival

     The Chinese Opera Festival, presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, will be held during June and July. Traditional Qi opera will form one of the central attractions and will be performed by the Qi Opera Theatre of Hunan. Qi opera is rarely seen in Hong Kong and is acclaimed one of the outstanding operatic genres in Chinese history.

     Also known as Qiyang opera, Qi has a major historic presence in Hunan province. Boasting a history of more than 500 years, it has been classified as National Intangible Cultural Heritage. Jiangxi migrants of the early Ming dynasty brought into Hunan "yiyangqiang" repertory sequences such as "The Story of Mu Lian", "The Legend of Quan Yin" and others. Later, during the Qing dynasty, troupe players introduced popular "kunqu" and "pihuang" repertory (combining Anhui and Han tunes with Shaanxi "xiqinqiang" tunes). The three singing patterns; "gaoqiang" (high pitch), "kunqiang" and "tanqiang" can now be found coexisting in Qi opera. Of all theatre genres in Hunan, Qi opera has the largest number of practitioners and the biggest following.

     Qi opera music is reputed for its sonorous, impassioned qualities, and features a wide repertoire of tunes. Traditionally, performers of the "laodan" (old woman) and "chou" (comic) roles perform in their natural singing voice, whereas other role-types employ the "yu-jia-xue" technique (literally "rain alternating with snow"), a combination of singing in natural voice and falsetto. Stringent performance standards demand excellent diction and delivery in round, unadulterated tones. The genre places an emphasis on visual impact and stylised movements, as seen in "Dong Hong Falls into a Pit" and "The Drunken Lu Zhishen Wreaking Havoc at the Monastery". There are relatively less spoken lines and sung verses - instead, character portrayal and storytelling depend heavily on physical dramatisation. Each role-type distinguishes itself through a characteristic set of finger gestures, footwork, eye and stylised body movements, assimilated with martial art techniques including boxing and sword-fighting. The use of the wrist is underscored in "hand-wrist work", as in "reverse palm", where the palm faces outward and the fingers bend to touch the arm, and in elaborate gestures demonstrating wrist flexibility. Varied expressions of the eyes convey a spectrum of emotions, including shock (cross-eyed), rage (stare), deep contemplation (darting glance), anger (glare) and circumspect observation (google-eyed).

     While in Hong Kong, the Qi Opera Theatre of Hunan will showcase the rearranged version of the canonical work "Mu Lian Rescues His Mother", as well as operatic excerpts with spectacular stunts. Audiences will be fascinated by the visual ostentation and dramatic physical movements. Celebrated Qi opera artists performing in Hong Kong include Liu Dengxiong, Xiao Xiaobo, Zhang Shaojun, Li Heping, Jiang Shenguo and Zhang Shaobo.

     The Qi Opera Theatre of Hunan was founded in 1960 and has won numerous awards over the years. The Theatre's "Mu Lian Rescues His Mother" at the 2nd Hunan Arts Festival won an award for Preserving an Intangible Cultural Heritage, a Tian Han Grand Award and nine other individual awards including director, music, choreography and performance awards. Another production "Becoming a Butterfly in a Dream" won a Tian Han Grand Award and 13 individual recognitions at the 3rd Hunan Arts Festival.

     Details of the programme are as follows:

June 16 (Thursday), 7.30pm
Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall
Lecture Demonstration - The Theatrical Art of Qi Opera

June 17 (Friday), 7.30pm
Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall
Excerpts: "Wu Dalang Peddles Cakes", "The Wandering Busker", "Lady Zhaojun Going Beyond the Great Wall", "Fan Zhongyu Beaten and Thrown into a Crate", "Sima Shi Purges the Court", "A Dumb Man Carries His Crippled Sister", "Dong Hong Falls into a Pit" and "The Yellow Crane Tower"

June 18 (Saturday), 7.30pm
Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall
High-pitch full-length opera "Mu Lian Rescues His Mother"

     Tickets for performances priced from $100 to $240, and tickets for the Lecture Demonstration priced at $50, are now available at URBTIX outlets, on the Internet and by credit card telephone booking. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients. (Limited tickets for full-time students and CSSA recipients.) Please refer to the programme booklet for group booking discount schemes of the Chinese Opera Festival programmes. (Discount for full-time students and group booking discount schemes are not applicable to the tickets for the Lecture Demonstration.)

     For programme enquiries, please call 2268 7325 or visit For ticketing enquiries, please call 2734 9009. For credit card telephone bookings, please call 2111 5999. For Internet bookings, please visit

     To enhance understanding of the theatrical art of Qi opera, a lecture and demonstration including performance of the opera excerpt "The Drunken Lu Zhishen Wreaking Havoc at the Monastery" will be held on June 16. A centrepiece in the stock repertoire for actors in "hualian" (painted face) roles, this excerpt demonstrates masterly skills in Qi opera using the eyes, facial expressions, footwork and the abdomen. It also spotlights the acrobatic act in which the actor performs the postures of the "Eighteen Arhats" while standing on one leg. It has inspired similar excerpts in Hunan opera and "kunqu".

Ends/Tuesday, May 17, 2011


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