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Opera Xishi - Beauty is forever

2010-04-27 09:22 BJT

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Westerners know Helen of Troy as "the face that launched a thousand ships", setting off the Trojan War. China has the legend of Xi Shi, who was so beautiful that when she washed silk in a stream even the fish looked away. Now, the story of the timeless beauty has undergone a modern adaptation into a traditionally Western form of art --- opera. It has just wraps up its second run at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

About 494 BC during China's Spring and Autumn Period, the King of Yue was imprisoned after being defeated by the State of Wu, making Yue a dependent state.

Secretly planing revenge, Yue officials began to train beautiful women in order to seduce the King of Wu. One of Yue's ministers found Xi Shi and Zheng Dan and gifted them to the King of Wu.

Bewitched by the two beauties, the King of Wu forgot all about the state affairs and killed his best advisor and general, who tried to persuade him not to indulge in women and pleasure.

The State of Wu dwindled and in 473 BC, the King of Yue enacted his revenge and routed the Wu army.

Director Cao Qijing says the production is a rare example of telling a Chinese legend in the form of a Western opera.

Cao Qijing, Director, said, "The western art form must have Chinese content, and must combine them in smart ways. This is the only way it can survive in China. The opera Xi Shi is a good example in this sense."

Soprano Shen Na who stars as Xi Shi says that it's the tragic power deep inside that makes the role very appealing.

Shen Na, Soprano, said, "I think the story of a beauty who was used as a pawn by rival kingdoms is likely to strike a chord for audiences of different cultures. She spent ten years of her life to accomplish a mission for her nation. She lived both the most sumptuous life as well as the most desolate. This role is very dramatic and very challenging.

Last year, the National Centre for the Performing Arts or NCPA commissioned a team of leading artists to adapt this tale into the opera Xi Shi.

It is the NCPA's first opera production since it opened in 2007. Since its debut last October, the show received rave reviews from the audience.

Audience Member said, "The plot and music are both better than my expectations. Opera has been a weak point in Chinese art circles. It's really not easy to adapt such an old Chinese story into an opera."

Audience Member said, "It's my first time to see a western opera tell an ancient Chinese story. As a completely new attempt to blend eastern and western stage arts, the trial needs time to test its popularity."

Tenor Sun Li who stars as the dissipated King of Wu says that the opera's success can be attributed to the popular story.