Meng-yi LIU, In-house Administrator, Dadaocheng Theater
From “Wearing a red flowered dress, the wind in her golden hair, she longs for her lover,” 1 to “There he stands afar, golden hair a-flowing.” 2
Released in 1951, “Remembering Anping,” a Taiwanese (Holo) song written by lyricist Chen Daru and composer Xu Shi, gained wide popularity. In 1972 the song served as basis for the film Returning to Anping, starring Taiwanese opera great Yang Lihua, a testament to the Taiwanese people’s love for the subject matter. In 2012 Tainan’s Shiu-Kim Taiwanese Opera Troupe resurrected the theme, creating Remembering Anping, a “new Taiwanese opera” for the modern era. The work made it to the finals of the 3rd Annual National Culture and Arts Foundation Pursuit of Excellence in Performing Arts Project, and the performing arts category of the 10th Annual Taihsin Arts Awards, affirming the success of the production’s textual and musical innovations.
Based on a popular song of the same name, Remembering Anping is a poignant intergenerational love story, portraying the lives of a mother and her daughter. Embedded within the mother’s and the daughter’s love stories are a miniature history of both modern Taiwan and the Taiwanese opera’s process of cultural development, and a “play within a play,” a standard feature of traditional opera performance. Scriptwriter Wang Youhui reveals the many and diverse features of the Taiwanese opera by means of textual creativity and modern production values. Set to music by Zhou Yiqian, the production’s musical director, the lengthy and highly literary lyrics are a thrilling portrayal of the lives, loves, and worldly affairs of a generation of Taiwanese.
The story begins with a festival honoring the goddess Mazu in Anping in 1911. Jin Yumei (Zhuang Jinmei), a young woman, goes with her brother Jin Yulu to attend the festivities. There, she chances to meet Dahl, a Dutch ship’s doctor. The two fall in love and begin seeing each other, but Yumei father opposes the romance and Dahl is forced to leave Taiwan. Yumei dies after giving birth to a biracial blond-haired girl, leaving only a gold crucifix. Distraught over his sister’s fate, opera-buff Jin Yulu joins a Taiwanese opera troupe. Enraged that his son has besmirched the family name – at that time opera performers occupied the lower rungs of the social ladder – Yulu’s father disowns him.
Twenty years later, Jin Yulu has finished his apprenticeship and formed his own opera troupe. In front of his now-deserted family home he encounters Sihe (Zhuang Jinmei), his sister’s daughter, whom he has never before met. After the two realize their kinship, the young woman joins her uncle’s opera troupe, training for the role of tragic heroine. Sihe falls in love with Lin Zhiyuan, scion of a wealthy Anping family, but Lin’s parents look down on her because of her association with the opera. Finally, Zhiyuan is forced by his family to go abroad on business, ending the romance. At Anping harbor, his ship sails before Sihe has a chance to say goodbye, but standing on the dock she coincidentally witnesses the arrival of her Dutch father, the sighting unraveling the twenty-year old knot in her heart. However, Sihe adamantly refuses to acknowledge the relationship, choosing to stay with her uncle and his opera troupe.
Singing and dancing are the Taiwanese opera’s aesthetic essence, voice and movement its backbone. Remembering Anping is set in the middle of the Japanese colonial period, the lyrics and music a fusion of traditional Taiwanese opera and popular song, the musical accompaniment imbuing the poetic lyrics without rich new meaning without sacrificing time-honored euphony. The presentation is accessible but not clichéd, the plot in harmony with the deep emotions expressed in the lyrics. Although costumes are natural and realistic, the bridge – the play within a play – stays true to tradition, both in dress and “figures,” 3 showcasing performers firm grounding in the fundamentals of the Taiwanese opera. Showcasing tunes new and old, modern and traditional attire, the production shuttles between modernity and classicism. Zhang Xiuqin, who plays the male lead, and Zhuang Jin Mei turn in superb performances in this twenty-first century version of “Remembering Anping.”
1“Remembering Anping” (1951), by Chen Daru and Xu Shi.
2From Remembering Anping (2012), performed by the Shiu-Kim Taiwanese Opera Troupe.
3Graceful, dance-like movements and gestures; see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_opera#Stage_properties_and_figures
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