Chinese Orphan (Zhaoshi guer)
Genre: Western opera
Produced by National Centre for the Performing Arts, China
Composer: Lei Lei
Script: Zou Jingzhi
Director: Chen Xinyi
Performers: Yuan Chenye, Chen Yong, Yao Hong, Liang Ning, Guan Zhijing
About the genre
We use song-dance theatre to refer to the traditional/indigenous theatre in China (that has often been referred to as “Chinese opera”), because there is indeed the performing genre “opera” in the country. 〔LINK About the pilot 〕The emergence of opera in China was inspired by the introduction of Western opera during the New Culture Movement (1916-1920s). Its musical composition typically follows Western musical structure and harmonic principles while the melodies are strongly influenced by traditional theatre and folk music.
Chinese composers started working on operas as early as the 1920s, among the first pieces were children’s song and dance dramas including Sparrows and Children (Maque yu xiaohai) and others composed by Li Jinhui (1891-1967).
Chinese opera houses also produce Western operatic repertoire.
The Orphan of Zhao is a play based on historical records. [Link to the Exhibition] The orphan was born circa 583 BC during the Spring-Autumn Period – a time when imperial power was being eroded by the growth of numerous aristocratic-family-states. Appalled by the chaos and bloodshed, philosophers such as Confucius (551-479 BC) acted as advisors to rulers on how to control their states and people.
Historical records present contradictory accounts of the story. Most versions of different theatrical genres and films we see now are based on the extant full-length tragedy Wrongs Avenged by the Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang, written in the Yuan dynasty when China was ruled by the Mongols (1279-1368 AD).
The basic story is as follows: schemed by the evil courtier Tu’an Gu, the Zhao clan were all killed except for the Princess who was the Jin Ruler’s sister and was pregnant. After the baby was born, he was smuggled out by a doctor called Cheng Ying. Having realized that the baby boy had escaped, Tu’an Gu gave the order to kill all the newly born boys in the country. Finally, Cheng Ying decided to give up his own child for the Zhao orphan. Meanwhile Cheng Ying and his friend, a retired minister Gongsun Chujiu made a plan. Cheng would report to Tu’an about Gongsun who had the Zhao orphan in his house. Actually the real Zhao orphan was hidden in the deep mountain while Cheng’s own baby son was with Gongsun. Tu’an killed both Gongsun and the child. In order to reward Cheng Ying as a loyal reporter, Tu’an took both Cheng Ying and his son (but actually Zhao’s offspring) to his house and Tu’an made himself the foster father of the boy.16 years later, Cheng Ying revealed the true story to the young man. The orphan of Zhao took the revenge on Tu’an, for his parents, grandparents, his clan and for Cheng Ying. In order to rescue this orphan many people died.
This is an archetypal Chinese story of loyalty, honesty, sacrifice, friendship, evil, revenge, bravery, and justice.
There are two clips. One is from the scene when Cheng Ying, the doctor, brings back the orphan of Zhao, smuggled out of the palace by him. Faced with two babies, Cheng Ying’s wife gradually understands her husband’s decision. She is devastated. There is also a trailer of the production that China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts made for the Leeds international symposium Performing China on the Global Stage, held in March 2013.
Images and the video are courtesy of National Centre for the Performing Arts, China.
国际研究互联网项目“舞台中国”从不使用“Chinese opera”这个英文词来表达中国戏曲，因为在中国戏剧的大家庭里，确实存在歌剧（opera）这个形式。〔LINK 关于实验版本的说明〕 受到1916-1920年代新文化运动的影响，西洋歌剧进入了中国，中国音乐实践者也开始创作自己的歌剧。歌剧的作曲严格按照西洋歌剧以及和声的各种规则，同时，在旋律方面也吸取中国戏曲、民歌和小调的养分。