‘First lady of opera’ masters Peking, Kunqu styles
By Xu Wei
Though many Peking Opera actors also perform Kunqu Opera, Shi Yihong is considered one of the most versatile artists for her elegance and all-round ability to act, sing and dance.
She is often called the “first lady of Chinese opera.”
The 41-year-old Shanghai-born artist will stage five performances of well-known Peking and Kunqu Opera classics from October 30 to November 3 at the Yifu Theater. The shows are part of the month long Shanghai International Arts Festival beginning on October 18.
The five shows include the full version of Peking Opera “The Legend of the White Snake” (October 30), the full version of Kunqu Opera “The Tale of the Horse Peddler” (November 1), the full version of Peking Opera “Mu Guiying” (November 2) and excerpt from Peking Opera “Spring of the Jade Hall” (November 3).
On October 31, Shi will collaborate with Kunqu Opera artist Cai Zhengren to perform the Kunqu classic “Peony Pavilion.”
Over five days in January Shi performed at China’s National Grand Theater to rave reviews of her singing and martial arts skills.
“It was a big challenge to perform different plays on five consecutive days,” says Shi. “It was a test of my strength, memory and vocal abilities. Sometimes in rehearsal I mixed up characters’ names and lines.”
Shi began her Peking Opera performing career 30 years ago. She made her stage debut when she was 11 years old. In 1990 she joined the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe, depicting many impressive female characters in classical opera. In 1994, she won the Plum Blossom Prize, the highest theatrical award in China.
She will perform in director Zhang Yimou’s first Peking Opera show titled “Allegiance Under Heaven,” about the filial piety of an ancient statesman. It will be staged during the Shanghai International Arts Festival.
Based on a Chinese folk tale, “The Legend of the White Snake” is a love story about a scholar and a female snake sorceress. “The Tale of the Horse Peddler” revolves around Li Qi, a horse peddler who is framed for murder of his maid.
“Mu Guiying” depicts a legendary woman general in ancient China. “Spring of the Jade Hall” tells the story of a prostitute known as Yu Tangchun who falls in love with the son of a retired minister.
One of the most famous plays in Kunqu Opera, “Peony Pavilion” centers on the love of Du Liniang, the daughter of a rich family, and poor young scholar Liu Mengmei.