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Ouju opera “The Number One Scholar Zhang Xie” staged at the NCPA
Date:2023-11-20 14:29:53 Source:Wenzhou·China Fonts:[ Large Medium Small ]

The Ouju opera “The Number One Scholar Zhang Xie” resonated through the hall of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), evoking the ancient charm of the Nanxi opera and showcasing the traditional style of the Ouju opera. On the evening of November 12th, as a key event of the “Operas from Wenzhou” 2023 Nanxi Opera Classic Culture Week Expands to the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region, the Ouju opera “The Number One Scholar Zhang Xie” captivated the audience at the NCPA. This marked the first time that this unique form of Wenzhou operas, known as “China’s first opera”, had graced the prestigious stage of the NCPA, raising the profile of the Nanxi opera and shining a spotlight on Wenzhou’s iconic image as the “hometown of opera”.

Onstage, the exquisite portrayal, melodious singing, and versatile performances by the six leading actors brought the play to life. Meanwhile, waves of applause reverberated throughout the hall, punctuated by the infectious laughter from the audience. What was expected to be a poignant and tragic tale of “The Number One Scholar Zhang Xie” took on a different dimension through the interpretation of the Ouju opera. Amid the jests and outbursts, the performance revealed aspects of human nature and ethics, deftly interweaving moral ambiguities within its comical and witty dialogues. The audience found themselves thoroughly entertained and uplifted by the seamless and captivating performances. “This is my first time watching the Ouju opera, and it’s truly unique. I find it incredibly fascinating,” remarked Ms. Zhang, a theater enthusiast from Beijing, as she applauded, thoroughly enamored by the distinctive vocal artistry of the Ouju opera.

In this performance, Fang Rujiang, the actor playing “Zhang Xie” and winner of the opera “Plum Blossom Award”, skillfully portrayed the mental change of a fickle, cowardly, and selfish man who felt a profound repentance in the end. With his solid and versatile performance skills and exceptional singing ability, he brought the character to life. According to him, the essence of the Nanxi opera is deeply rooted in the Ouju opera that has a history of 400 years. The Ouju opera version of “The Number One Scholar Zhang Xie” is not a mere reproduction of the original work but an innovative adaptation based on inheritance that embraces speculative and experimental ideas. “We draw from the heritage of the Nanxi opera, ground ourselves in the present, and excel on the stage. While unearthing and inheriting our cultural treasures, we infuse the classics with new interpretations and vigor for the modern era,” said Cai Xiaoqiu, director of Wenzhou Ouju Opera Art Research Institute. She hopes that via “Operas from Wenzhou”, the Ouju opera can gain recognition nationwide and contribute to the inheritance and promotion of the Nanxi opera, thereby enhancing cultural confidence.

The original work, “The Number One Scholar Zhang Xie”, is the oldest and most complete ancient Chinese opera script discovered in China to date. Created by the talented members of the Wenzhou Jiushan Association of Dramatists, it boasts a history of over 800 years and is hailed as “China’s first opera” and “a living fossil of the opera”. Its Ouju opera version was created and staged in 2021, with Zhang Lie and An Sheng as the playwrights, Sun Xiaoyan as the director, Cai Nanzheng as the composer, and Fang Rujiang, the winner of the Plum Blossom Award, leading the cast, alongside Ye Yuanyuan, Hu Tao, Ma Jianshan, Mao Xianzao, Zhou Fei, and others. When it premiered in October 2021, the play received acclaim from all walks of society.

“The fact that the Ouju opera version can be performed at the NCPA deserves attention,” commented Wang Yuyu, editor-in-chief of Arts Criticism at the Chinese National Academy of Arts. He highly praised the Ouju opera adaptation of “The Number One Scholar Zhang Xie”, stating, “In the process of inheriting and developing this representative work of Nanxi opera in the new era, it is worth exploring how to maintain traditions while embracing innovation, retain the essence and charm of traditional Chinese art and achieve an organic connection between tradition and modernity.” He expressed that the Ouju opera, as a precious opera with multiple vocal styles, should explore through adaptation and creation how to present the rustic style and the profound creative vitality, entertainment spirit, and popular appeal inherent in the Nanxi opera, how to enrich the diverse artistic expressions of ancient artworks in today’s context, and how to promote the distinctive features of the opera genre and seek a development path for rare regional opera forms. These explorations are of great significance and will provide valuable insights for contemporary opera creation.