Wuxi Opera "The Pearl Pagoda": A Glimpse into How to Maintain the Vitality of Traditional Chinese Opera

NANJING, China, Dec. 28, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — On December 27, the classic Wuxi Opera "The Pearl Pagoda" was performed in Nanjing, featuring seven generations of distinguished opera artists from Wuxi Opera Troupe of Jiangsu Performing Arts Group, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the troupe’s establishment, according to the Information Office of Jiangsu Province.

Wuxi Opera "The Pearl Pagoda"
Wuxi Opera "The Pearl Pagoda"

"The Pearl Pagoda" tells the story of a young man, Fang Qing, who, facing family decline, is ridiculed after borrowing from his aunt. His cousin gives him the family heirloom, a pearl pagoda, to help him succeed in his studies. The story is rich in traditional Chinese values and distinctive local characteristics. Over 400 years, it has been widely spread through various traditional Chinese artistic forms including Pingtan, Wuxi Opera, Kunqu Opera, and farce.

The new version of Wuxi Opera "The Pearl Pagoda," creatively interpreted by Jiangsu Wuxi Opera Troupe in the year of 2000, features excellent script and seamless cooperation among performers. It blends the common with the refined, satisfying the aesthetic needs of audiences at different groups. This classic production, after adaptation, has been hailed as the "Pearl Pagoda Phenomenon."

Subsequently, Zhou Dongliang, a Wuxi Opera actor who gained fame for his portrayal of Fang Qing, won the Plum Blossom Award, the highest Chinese award for performing arts. He is revered by fans as the "Wuxi Opera Prince." Since 2010, he has been serving as the director of Jiangsu Wuxi Opera Troupe, and the troupe’s performances have gained widespread recognition.

Zhou Dongliang mentioned that the successful innovative adaptation of "The Pearl Pagoda" implies the need to move beyond traditional plays or specific scripts. In recent years, Jiangsu Wuxi Opera Troupe has created numerous original, traditional, and new plays, accumulating nearly 300 scripts as the foundation for the troupe’s development. They have also expanded beyond the limitations of themes restricted to romance between gifted scholars and beauties. For instance, they produced "Dafengge," a historical drama about Liu Bang, founder of Han Dynasty, demonstrating that the troupe has adequate talents to handle such large-scale productions.

As one of the most representative regional opera genres in east China’s Jiangsu Province, Wuxi Opera originated from the southern shores of Taihu Lake, with a history of over two centuries. It is included in the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of China. Rooted in the Wuxi dialect, Wuxi Opera possesses a rich cultural heritage of Wu culture and continues to captivate audiences in the Yangtze River Delta.

Founded in 1953, Jiangsu Wuxi Opera Troupe has cultivated a large number of Wuxi Opera performing artists, such as Yao Cheng, Wang Lanying, Shen Peihua, Ni Tongfang, Zhou Dongliang, and more. They have excavated, created, and performed over 200 productions.

Currently, Zhou holds the position as Chairman of Jiangsu Performing Arts Group, tasked with promoting the revival of 10 art troupes, including the Wuxi Opera Troupe.

Taking Wuxi opera as an example, the interest class dedicated in Wuxi opera over ten years, has expanded to places like Jiangyin, Yixing, and Wuxi, scouting many talented individuals. The class has also cultivated a large group of young Wuxi opera fans, becoming a vibrant force among the audience. Zhou Dongliang is committed to uniting Wuxi Opera troupes from various regions, helping each other and jointly protecting the art of Wuxi Opera.

"In recent years, Wuxi Opera has been developing in a positive direction, and I am confident in its future," said Zhou.

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Source: Wuxi Opera "The Pearl Pagoda": A Glimpse into How to Maintain the Vitality of Traditional Chinese Opera