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Musicals, dramas and concerts, oh my!
2013-10-12
By Joyce Zhang

The 15th annual Shanghai International Arts Festival promises a little something for everyone this year.

Musical dramas, Chinese operas, plays, concerts and a series especially for emerging artists are all part of the 46 stage programs and 10 exhibitions in the month-long festival that opens on October 18.

Liu Wenguo, artistic director of the China Shanghai International Arts Festival Center, says original works by Shanghai artists play an important role in this year’s festival.

About 25 percent of the programs to be staged will be presented by Shanghai artists or with major participation by local artists, he says.

“Though programs by top overseas artists often draw much attention during the festival, the participation of Shanghai artists and productions have always been an important part of the festival,” Liu says.

One of the highlights is “National Anthem,” a musical drama created by Shanghai Opera House.

The story revolves around the life of Nie Er, who composed “March of the Volunteers.” The song eventually became the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China.

It will close the festival on November 18.

Shanghai Grand Theater, Shanghai Opera House and Palace of Arts Budapest combined to produce the opera “Attila.” It is highly anticipated as it will be staged at Shanghai Grand Theater, which reopens in November after undergoing renovations.

“Attila” also commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. The Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center and National Center for Performing Arts present “Massage,” a drama portraying the lives of a group of blind masseurs. The play explores the dreams and hopes of these working-class people who are often overlooked in modern society.

“Massage” has been adapted from Bi Feiyu’s novel of the same name. The novel won the Mao Dun Literature Prize.

Other works include original musical “Mother Love Me Once Again,” Yueju Opera “Zhen Huan” and original musical “Shalom Shanghai”.

“We never planned to give priority to Shanghai artists, but a number of good local programs happened to meet the standards and needs of the festival this year and in past years,” Liu says.

He says the center looks at the artistic merits of each program and whether they are innovative. They also look for classics and quality overseas productions.

Liu also says Shanghai seems to specialize in merging Chinese and Western art forms.

“It’s a perfect breeding ground for such art productions,” Liu says.

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra will cooperate with famous composer and conductor Tan Dun, Korean-American violinist Sarah Chang and cellist Yo-Yo Ma during this year’s festival.

The three concerts will be very different. “Women’s Script” (see story on Page B3) by Tan Dun will be a symphony combining modern technology, ancient sounds and visual effects while the concert with Yo-Yo Ma will focus on traditional Chinese folk works like Guo Wenjing’s “Distressed Empty Mountain.” Sarah Chang and the orchestra will delve into the works of American composers like Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber.

Chen Guangxian, president of Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, says there is a strong bond with the festival.

“We feel really connected to the Shanghai International Arts Festival as we have participated in it since it started in 1999,” Chen says.

The orchestra often arranges its best programs to coincide with the festival every year. The festival, meanwhile, has lifted the orchestra’s international reputation and provided opportunities to work with top musicians from around the world.

Well-known Peking Opera actress Shi Yihong will bring a five-day series of Chinese operas to this year’s festival.

She plays very different roles in “The Legend of the White Snake,” “Mu Guiying,” “Spring of the Jade Hall,” “Peony Pavilion” and “The Tale of the Horse Peddler.”

“It is very challenging physically, vocally and mentally,” says Shi, “but it will be great for audience as they will not find such performances elsewhere.”

The actress says Shanghai has played an interesting role in developing Peking Opera though it is far from the art form’s birthplace. Many famous Peking Opera artists have first gained fame in Shanghai, including the late master Mei Lanfang, who made his Shanghai premiere 100 years ago.

Meanwhile, the festival also actively works to promote young artists.

Modern dancer Ding Yi, 30, is one of the eight young artists chosen in the festival’s “Rising Artists Works” program.

The theme of this year’s program is “Dialogue between Intangible Culture Heritage and Modern Arts.”

Together with her friend Lu Gu, Shanghai-native Ding created an innovative dance named “Spinning Top.” It combines elements of modern dance, acrobatics and Chinese operas.

Performing in the festival for the first time, Ding says she is excited.

She also sees the festival as a great platform for artistic communication.

“Communication is essential for artists to improve,” she says. “I am really looking forward to meeting more great artists at this high-standard platform.”

Oversea program highlights

'Swan Lake’ by Les Ballet de Monte-Carlo

This opens the festival on October 18.

Although “Swan Lake” is a classic, legendary choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot and Monaco-based Ballet de Monte-Carlo are giving it a modern twist.

Their version places more focus on telling the story through body language rather than the classic solo skills such as the famous 32 foutte turns.

Sections like the “Four Little Swans” will be replaced by more narrative dances while the romantic scenes will also feature less dancing. “I want dance connected to lives,” Maillot says.

Even the costumes will be different. Gone are the tutus normally associated with ballet.

The dancer playing Odetta will wear a white dress with black lace while Odile will be clad in a metallic outfit to make the prince look more masculine.

Date: October 18-20, 7:15pm

Venue: Shanghai Culture Square

Address: 38 Yongjia Rd

Tickets: 80-1,280 yuan

Tel: 6217-3055, 6217-2426

Pinchas Zukerman Concert

Pinchas Zukerman, one of the world’s top 10 violinists, will cooperate with the National Arts Center Orchestra of Canada at Shanghai Concert Hall on October 19. He will present Hetu’s “Antimonie,” Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5.”

Zukerman’s favorite Shanghai music student, Shi Shuai, will perform alongside the violinist.

Date: October 19, 7:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Concert Hall

Address: 523 Yan’an Rd E.

Tickets: 80-580 yuan

Tel: 6217-3055, 6217-2426

Cecilia Bartoli Recital

Famous Italian coloratura mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli will perform at Shanghai Oriental Art Center on October 19.

Born into a family of musicians in Rome, Bartoli shot to fame after being cast as Rossini in the “Barber of Seville” for a run at Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colon opera house in 1988.

Date: October 19, 7:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Oriental Art Center

Address: 425 Dingxiang Rd

Tickets: 80-1,280 yuan

Tel: 6217-3055, 6217-2426

'Mahler Evening’ by Bejart Ballet Lausanne

Ballet “Mahler Evening” is a new work from Switzerland-based Bejart Ballet Lausanne. It will be staged at Shanghai Culture Square on November 15 and 16.

It is based on three of Mahler’s music pieces — “Ceque I’Amour me Dit,” “Ceque la Mort me Dit,” and “Le Chant du Compagnon Errant.”

Choreographer Bejart is known for presenting philosophy and poems through dance.

“Ceque la Mort me Dit” is adapted from five of Mahler’s works based on Riedrich Rackert’s poems.

The piece is filled with melancholy, a longing for life and respect for death. “Le Chant du Compagnon Errant” is like a personal confession, while “Ceque I’amour me Dit” is adapted from Mahler’s Symphony No. 3.

Date: November 15-16, 7:15pm

Venue: Shanghai Culture Square

Address: 38 Yongjia Rd

Tickets: 80-1,280 yuan

Tel: 6217-3055, 6217-2426

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