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The illustrious Jia clan in the capital of Jinling traces its origin to two brothers who were conferred the titles of Lord Ningguo and Lord Rongguo for scoring merits for the country. Wang Xifeng, pet name ‘Fengjie’, is the wife of Jia Lian who is now the eldest son of the Rongguo branch. Fengjie runs the Rongguo household. She is smart and gorgeous, astute and capable, but can also be overbearing and ruthless. Qin Keqing, wife of the eldest grandchild of the Ningguo House, dies young. As her bosom friend, Fengjie goes over to the other House to mourn her. At Jia Lian’s first cousin Jia Zhen’s earnest request, Fengjie agrees to run the Ningguo household during the funerary period. She presides over Ningguo House and takes charge of everything big and small. Superbly smart and astute, she single-handedly rids the Ningguo House of long-standing undesirable practices such as the lack of clear delegation of duties, fraudulent claims of expenses, unjust handing out of punishment and rewards, and over-spending and indulgence of family members. The Ningguo House is put in order and she amply proves herself.
A distant relative Jia Rui, style name Tianxiang, comes from an inferior branch of the Jia clan and is the grandchild of Jia Dairu, schoolmaster of the family school. He is devious, selfish, greedy about money, vile and lascivious. Seeing Fengjie’s attractive mien, he lusts after her and accosts her repeatedly. Fengjie sets up a clever but nasty love trap to trick him. Jia Rui falls for the hoax and falls ill afterwards. A lame Taoist monk comes by to offer him an erotic mirror. At first, Jia Rui does as he is told and looks in the back of the mirror only, which shows a skeleton. Then he looks in the right side of the mirror and sees Fengjie beckoning him with inviting looks. He calls out to her and dies in the end.
Now Fengjie’s husband, Jia Lian, is a philanderer, but because he has a jealous wife, he can only womanise in secret. Fengjie has given birth to a daughter but is short of a male heir. Because of this, she adopts a laissez-faire attitude towards her husband’s philandering, but deep down she burns with jealousy. Jia Lian is smitten by You Erjie’s beauty and unbeknownst to Fengjie, sets up a second home with You Erjie as second wife. Not long after, Uncle She rewards him with the handmaid Qiutong as concubine. Fengjie becomes wildly jealous and comes up with a murderous plan – she will make Qiutong kill You Erjie first and she will kill Qiutong after. Fengjie lures You Erjie to move into the Rongguo House and subjects her to various kinds of torture in secret. She even commissions Imperial Doctor Hu to prescribe overly strong medicine to abort You Erjie’s male fetus. Later, she eggs Qiutong on to make a scene and hurl abuse outside You Erjie’s window. Overwhelmed by such indignities, You Erjie kills herself by swallowing gold the very night. With You Erjie’s death, Fengjie sheds crocodile tears while her eye is now set on Qiutong…
Lung Koon-tin as Jia Lian
Nam Fung as Wang Xifeng
Tang Mi-ling as You Erjie
Liu Kwok-sum as Jia Zhen & Lame Taoist Monk
Song Hongbo as Jia Rui
Lam Tsz-ching as Ping Er
Chan Yuk-hing as You Dajie
Szeto Hoi-yee as Qiu Tong
Running time of each performance is approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes including an intermission of 15 minutes.
Lyrics with Chinese and English surtitles.
Information provided by the arts group.
Although I have the entire multivolume set of The Dream of the Red Chamber sitting on my bookshelf, I have never wanted to really ‘read’ it – meaning line by line and page by page – all in one go. I somehow find its exquisite texture and delicate subtleties ‘heavy’ and deterring. I remember the first time I read it with grit and intent was when I had enrolled in a classical literature class and there was homework to do. Even then I only read about forty or fifty chapters.
When Marilyn To Wai Sau-ming commissioned me to write the script for Phoenix of the Red Chamber, I was both thrilled and terrified – terrified as I would have to read at least seventy chapters of The Dream of the Red Chamber. What a daunting task! Also, for someone who only writes after work, to complete a Cantonese Opera script in six months was a bit of a hurry. At the same time, I was thrilled because it was also a challenge. It would be exciting to portray the character of Wang Xifeng whom I knew so little about. Besides, it was the first time I was to work with this team, which promised to widen my horizons and open up new paths for my writing career.
The plot of Phoenix of the Red Chamber centres on Wang Xifeng, highlighting her unique qualities of ‘capability, flirtatious charm, and ruthlessness’. The storyline is built upon episodes in the following chapters of The Dream of the Red Chamber: Chapter 11 – Birthday party at Ningguo House/ Jia Rui develops erotic feelings for Wang Xifeng, Chapter 12 – Wang Xifeng hatches clever yet nasty love plot/ Jia Tianxiang looks in erotic mirror, Chapter 13 – Qin Keqing dies and her husband becomes Imperial Guard/ Wang Xifeng manages Ningguo household, Chapter 68 – Miserable You Erjie enters Prospect Garden/ Jealous Wang Xifeng storms Ningguo House, and Chapter 69 – Plot to kill with a borrowed knife/ Suicide by swallowing gold.
I am very grateful to Director Geng Tianyuan for picking out the dramaturgical and scriptwriting directions, thus making up for what I had missed in my too cursory reading of the novel in the past. I did not appreciate well enough some of the characters such as Wang Xifeng, Jia Lian and You Erjie before, and could not sort out the complicated relationships and threads in the story. Writing the script for this Cantonese Opera production gives me the chance, or perhaps the push factor, to know these characters in greater depth, and to make them come alive on stage with the actors’ portrayal.
As I have said, writing the script for Phoenix of the Red Chamber is a challenge as the characters and events involved are numerous. I took great care at every turn in deciding what to and what not to include, and in telling a coherent and well-structured story. As the curtain rises on Phoenix of the Red Chamber today, I very much look forward to meeting the Phoenix herself on stage!
I am indebted to Marilyn To for entrusting the task to me and am grateful to Director Geng Tianyuan for his enlightening guidance. My thanks also go out to the audience for coming here today. Thank you all!
A little more than a year ago, I met with Marilyn To Wai Sau-ming, co-ordinator for this production of the New Cantonese Opera Phoenix of the Red Chamber. In it, we discussed the difference between ‘casting an actor for a script’ and ‘creating a script for an actor’. We were drawn to the renowned Cantonese Opera actress Nam Fung for her solid mastery of the operatic art and her free yet graceful persona on stage. We imagined she would be a seamless fit for an operatic role of Fengjie (Wang Xifeng) based on the storyline in The Dream of the Red Chamber. Soon after, true to form, Marilyn To put words into action and our conceptualisation was realised with her diligent pursuit.
Then it transpired that talented playwright Chow Kit-ping was to write the libretto and script, which injected verve into the programme further.
I was charged with the task of directing. So I picked the excerpts and came up with an outline of the plot.
The librettist soon presented a deftly crafted story with a bold structure, and this unworthy director, on the other hand, filled in the minor details in a perfect partnership.
When the rehearsals were going to start, fate struck. I could not make it to Hong Kong.
I could only watch via video as Executive Director, Christie To Wing-sum, took over the rehearsals on site. It was the next best thing to me being there in person.
What a pity! Let me send my prayers from afar! With so many talents and virtuosi of the arts form working in unison, your will and efforts will certainly come to fruition. Another bow from me! With the pandemic still lurking, may the audience show their support by their attendance!
I wish with all my heart the smooth rehearsal of Phoenix of the Red Chamber and a resounding success for its performance!
Production Group: Super Talent International Limited
Playwright: Chow Kit-ping
Director: Geng Tianyuan
Executive Director, Music and Lighting Designer: To Wing-sum, Christie
Ensemble Leader: Chan Siu-lung
Percussion Leader: Mai Jiawei
Co-ordinator: To Wai Sau-ming, Marilyn
Manager: Esther Wai
Stage Manager: Martin Cheng
Lighting and Set: Kwong Hing Stage Scene Production Company
Costume and Props: Kam Yee Costumes Company
Leaflet Information and Surtitles Translation: KCL Language Consultancy Limited
Tickets available from 23 September onwards at URBTIX outlets, on internet, mobile app and credit card telephone booking.
Half-price tickets available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities and the minder, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients. (Limited tickets for full-time students and CSSA recipients available on a first-come, first-served basis.)
Please visit www.urbtix.hk for details of special opening hours of URBTIX outlets.
Save $8 per ticket for booking through the URBTIX website, mobile app or credit card telephone booking.
Credit Card Telephone Booking：2111 5999
Programme Enquiries：2268 7325
Ticketing Enquiries：3761 6661
Credit Card Telephone Booking：2111 5999
The programme does not represent the views of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
Telephone Registration Only
starting from 10am on 6 Oct 2020 (Tue)
Pre-performance Talk *Full. Thank you for your support!*
17 October 2020 (Sat) 7:30pm
New Wing Function Room, Ko Shan Theatre
Speaker: Lung Koon-tin, Tang Mi-ling (In Cantonese)
Post-performance Talk *Full. Thank you for your support!*
26 October 2020 (Mon) 7:30pm
AC1, Level 4, Administration Building, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Speaker: Lung Koon-tin, Nam Fung, Chow Kit-ping (In Cantonese)
The Pre-performance Talk and Post-performance Talk will be video-recorded and broadcast online from 23 October 2020 (Fri) and 2 November 2020 (Mon) onwards on this website.