I’ve been thinking that this blog needed an estrogen boost. Luckily, New York’s Lincoln Center Festival is about to give us a good dose..
Noted Chinese composer Guo Wenjing (郭文景) is premiering a new opera, The Phoenix Pavilion based on a traditional Sichuanese opera of the same name. Starring as the femme fatale Diao Chan (貂蝉) is the Sichuanese opera star Shen Tiemei (沈铁梅). The performances run from July 26 through July 28.
Aside from the occasional panda or dish of spicy, dry-fried intestines, Sichuanese culture doesn’t often come to American shores. For that reason, blog posts this week will be dedicated to the opera’s leading lady as well as traditional versions of the Diao Chan story from Sichuan, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Shaanxi.
We’ll start with one of Shen Tiemei’s signature roles, the young nun pining for freedom in the scene “Thinking of Worldly Pleasures.” (思凡) The plot itself requires little explanation – the little nun has been packed off to the convent by her family. Outside the gates one day, she meets a young man. Since that time, she hardly knows who she is or what she’s doing. One thing is certain: this nun would brave hellfire to cozy up with a handsome lad.
In the Chinese movie “Farewell My Concubine”, the old teacher repeats the traditional maxim: “Men fear the opera “Night Flight”, women fear the opera “Thinking of Worldly Pleasures”. Though this version of the scene Is a bit on the short side, it’s still a bravura piece for a “little lady “ (小旦) or “flower girl” (花旦) performer. It is a role to made for seducing audiences. Indeed, it’s worth recalling that up until the early 20th century, theater companies often had other, offstage, uses for some of their actors.
Shen Tiemei here performs in the High-Singing style of Sichuanese opera (高腔川剧) – vocally exuberant and accompanied only by percussion. You can practically smell the mountain air in her voice.