Sichuan Opera Goes International
Artists perform during the "Cultural China, Splendid Sichuan" event in Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka, June 4, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]
Sitting in a garden-style Chinese theater, Sonia Lovett and her team watch a "face-changing" performance in awe.
Lovett, a director with Britain's National Theater, is at Chongqing Sichuan Opera Theater (CSOT) in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality to film the Sichuan Opera.
"The performance was unbelievable!" Lovett said. "It was very beautiful."
Lovett's team are now putting what they filmed into a National Theater Live project, hoping to bring the form to the big screen.
Popular in Sichuan, Chongqing and Yunnan, Sichuan Opera has about 300 years of history. It features different singing styles from the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Jiangxi, the northwestern folk song melodies of Shaanxi, and singing in the Sichuan dialect.
One of the highlights of the opera is "face-changing," during which performers change their faces into as many as 14 different looks.
In recent years, the art has gained international recognition, with shows in Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, and the United States.
"I just did not expect the shows to be so popular because of the language differences," said Shen Tiemei, head of CSOT.
Shen has won the Plum Performance Award, the highest honor in the Chinese theater industry, three times, and is widely regarded as the leader in the world of Sichuan Opera.
"It has been my dream to introduce Sichuan Opera to the outside world," she said.
In 2004, Shen and composer Guo Wenjing wowed the audience in the Netherlands with their performance, which incorporated Sichuan Opera with symphonic works.
"It was a crazy night for the audience," said Yuan Wenge, also with the CSOT.
"They were amazed by the opera and many came backstage, asking Shen to teach them how to sing." Invitations continued, and Shen has performed in more than 10 countries and regions to enthusiastic applause.
Shen said that many people equate Sichuan Opera with face-changing and "fire-blowing," but the opera is "much more than the two techniques."
"Sichuan Opera combines singing, poetry and performing," Shen said.
"Only when you have mastered them all can you truly reach the audience." The opera's has attracted many foreigners to the CSOT to learn how to sing, including Swiss singer Valentin.
"I am fascinated by Sichuan Opera," he said. "I am particularly interested in playing the character Xu Xian in the Legend of the White Snake."
"The Legend of the White Snake" is a romantic tragedy of a snake-turned woman. Xu Xian is her husband. The government has been supporting the opera.
Last year, Chongqing issued a guideline stating that schools and performing troupes should work together to find a new generation of performers.
"I think it is a good sign," Shen said. "I hope that more people will pay attention to Sichuan Opera and the 300-year-old art will survive."