World-renowned GuoGuang Opera Company brings more ‘Jingju Magic’ after nine years

World-renowned GuoGuang Opera Company is set to premiere Jingju Magic – Love & Bewilderment in Malaysia from July 12 to 14 in Pentas 1, The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac), presented by the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Malaysia, klpac and National Center for Traditional Arts (Taiwan) with the support of the Ministry of Culture (Taiwan) and Advantech.

Though Taiwan’s premier opera company has travelled to France, Prague, Shanghai, and even Singapore, where they have performed four times, their upcoming Malaysian tour will mark their second outing here after a nine-year hiatus.

It is worth the wait as the 29-strong troupe, led by Director Peng Chun-kang, will be bringing not one but two double bills that showcase the best of Peking opera.

They open with Programme A comprising Zhuangzi Tests His Wife and Lu Wenlong on July 12 and 13, which explores the fundamental question of right and wrong. In the former, philosopher Zhuangzi returns after a ten-year absence only to fake his death to test his wife’s fidelity and even conjures up two paper effigies to keep an eye on her. In the latter, 16-year-old Lu Wen Long makes a heart-wrenching discovery that the man who raised him was the
very person who murdered his birth father.

It wraps up on July 14 with unmissable classics in Programme B including The Death of Zhou Yu from the Romance of Three Kingdoms which depicts the fall of the military general after his face-off with Zhang Fei. Interestingly, this piece ends with a new scene showing his wife, Xiao Qiao, mourning by his grave to offer a rare female point of view. GuoGuang cleverly links this to the second piece Guiying’s Accusation of Wang Kuei at the Temple through an
encounter between the two female protagonists in the underworld. Like Xiao Qiao, Guiying also has a tragic tale of her own as the famed courtesan was abandoned by Wang Kui in favour of the daughter of a high-ranking minister.

The magic lies not only in the enchanting stories that shine the spotlight on classics and historical figures but in the artistes that have invested years perfecting the 200-plus-year-old art form that combines singing, music, dance, acrobatics and martial arts. With its sparse stage and minimal props, all eyes are on the performers tasked to create the illusion and magic of theatre.

Apart from using highly-developed techniques to bring paper figurines to life or to perform special neck-hanging scenes, Malaysians will have the chance to see the troupe’s star martial artist Huang Shih-hung executing technically challenging somersaults, splits, cartwheels and more in The Death of Zhou Yu during his duet with Zhang Fei.

Another highlight is rising star Hsieh Le’s portrayal of Guiying’s emotional journey with her masterful manipulation of the water sleeves (long, flowing sleeves attached to the cuff), drawing audiences in and allowing them to empathise with Guiying’s inner struggles and tragic fate.

Echoing the Jingju Magic theme, flashbacks are also employed in several scenes such as when Guiying reaches the underworld and Xiao Qiao who is trapped in love. In their recent publicity tour to Malaysia, GuoGuang’s team shared that training may start from the age of ten for about eight years which begins with physical conditioning before they learn how to play various characters and, finally, master the use of props and perform in full costumes.

Audiences at the standing-room-only talk and demonstration were left gasping and in awe of rising star Li Jia-de’s (Best Newcomer, Golden Melody Awards for Traditional Arts and Music) superb display of strength, flexibility and precision. They were similarly taken in by Lin Tingyu’s use of the water sleeves to showcase joyful and also sorrowful scenes.

Judging from the loud cheers and applause from a very mixed crowd comprising kids and students to Peking opera lovers and expatriates, it is something you can appreciate whether you are a connoisseur of the art form or a newbie.

Known for their modern sensibilities and interpretation while adhering to traditional opera conventions, GuoGuang Opera Company offers a unique gateway for today’s audiences to experience age-old culture and traditions. To improve access, its performance in KL will be accompanied by Mandarin and English subtitles as well as a post-show talk during the weekend shows.

Helmed by two iron ladies – Wang An-chi (Artistic Director) and Chang Yu-hua (CEO) – GuoGuang Opera Company is one of the most exciting and innovative Jingju companies pushing forward with new scripts to complement the traditional repertoire as well as through IP branding strategies and Hollywood-level stage effects in some of its other bolder experiments. Their efforts are paying off as Chang shared that GuoGuang sold out three performances in a
2000-seat hall a month before its run recently with 70% of its audience below 35 years of age.

Regular tickets, priced from RM68 to RM188 (Patron of the Arts), can be purchased here. After its KL premiere, GuoGuang Opera Company will head North to participate in the George Town Festival with a different programme.

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