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Close encounter with Peking opera masters


Hong Kong audiences can expect a close encounter with the artists when they get tickets for the experimental Peking opera "King Chu Bidding Farewell to His Concubine".

Four renowned Peking opera performers, Chen Lincang, Shi Hongmei, Shu Tong and Wang Xiaoyan will soon perform in the Studio Theatre of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The performances will be held at 7.30pm, from September 24 to 27 (Wednesday to Saturday).

Shu and Wang will lead the cast on September 24 and 26 while Chen and Shi will perform in the other two performances. The Peking opera, produced by the Beijing Arts Creative Centre, is directed by Lin Zhaohua and written by Chen Yaxian. Lyrics and dialogue with Chinese and English surtitles will be available for each performance.

The opera tells the story of Xiang Yu, King of Chu, and his beloved concubine. Told by the historian-narrator Fan Zeng, it chronicles the battle between the kingdoms of Chu and Han. Xiang and his 800,000 men were ambushed at the mountain-hold of Gaxia by the Han army led by Liu Bang and his general Han Xin. Provisions were getting low and Xiang's troops were greatly diminished.

Xiang was at a loss as to what to do. One night, he heard the Han soldiers singing a Chu song and thought that the Han must have vanquished Chu land to have learned such a song. Crestfallen, he returned to his camp and sang a song of woe to his favourite concubine, Lady Yu, who consoled him with the words that "victory and defeat are both in the life of a soldier", and that there was no reason to be despondent.

But the narrator, Fan, reminded Xiang what a fatal mistake he had made when, at a state banquet years before, instead of seizing the chance to get rid of Liu, he had ordered Lady Yu to sing and dance for him. Xiang, showing his true noble spirit, disagreed, saying, "It should only be on the battlefield that Liu be killed."

Lady Yu performed her last sword dance in the marshalling camp of the King of Chu. She sang and danced to the accompaniment of drums, and expressed her love for her great King before she drew the sword and killed herself.

Liu and Han succeeded in forcing through the Chu defence line. Xiang could only flee. When he and his horse came to Wujiang River, there was no escape. The keeper invited Xiang to get into his boat, but Xiang's faithful steed suddenly jumped into the river, determined not to return home in shame. Xiang turned and shouted to the Han soldiers in close pursuit to come and take his head. But no one dared to come forward. Xiang laughed loud and long, then pulled his sword and cut his throat.

It was only after Xiang was gone that Liu and his generals dared to enter his camp. They stopped short because there they came upon Xiang's spear, coming out of the ground, upright and rigid, as if daring them to touch it. Several people tried to pull it loose, but they could not budge it. The mighty kingdom of Chu was gone, together with its mighty king.

Under the management of the Beijing Municipal Cultural Bureau, the Beijing Arts Creative Centre is responsible for the production of large-scale arts projects. The centre joined up with the Peking Opera Theatre of Beijing to present the first experimental Peking Opera, "What is Done Can't be Undone". It also participated in planning the Kunqu musical, "The Royal Concubine Sails East", the Ping Opera "As Zhang Damin Happily Rattles On" and Kunqu Operatic Theatre, "The Peony Pavilion: A Spoiled Romance".

Presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, tickets priced at $180 and $140 are now available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price concessions will be granted to senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients (limited student and CSSA tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis). A 10% discount is also available for Friends of Leisure and Cultural Services performing venues. There will also be various ticketing concessions: 10% discount for every purchase of four to nine tickets, 15% for 10 to 19 tickets and 20% for 20 tickets or more; 10% discount for each purchase of "King Chu Bidding Farewell to his Concubine" and "Regional Operatic Arts Theatre of Hubei Province" or 15% discount for each purchase of three or more performances, including "King Chu Bidding Farewell to his Concubine" and "Regional Operatic Arts Theatre of Hubei Province". Patrons can receive only one of the above discounts for each purchase.

For programme enquiries, call 2268 7323 or visit Ticketing enquiries and reservations can be made on 2734 9009 and credit card telephone bookings on 2111 5999.

End/Wednesday, July 30, 2003

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