When it comes to Peking Opera, words fail me. Let me say from the get go, I love Western opera. Carmen, Aida, The Magic Flute, I’ve seen them all and go as often as time allows. But Peking Opera, well I haven’t heard anything like it and I doubt I’ll ever hear anything like it again.
Nails on a chalkboard is the closest I’ve come to hearing such a discordant sound and I was left speechless and in a kind of catatonic agony when I heard the high pitched wailing and caterwauling emanating from the mouth of the beautifully made up women on the stage.
The music was jarring too, lots of banging and clashing of cymbals (which woke up younger members of the audience who had fallen asleep). I quickly realised the loud percussion meant a battle was in progress.
With the aid of surtitles I was able to follow the libretto and I was amused that it took almost a minute to sing ‘Yes, my Emperor’, but milliseconds to announce the enemy was at the gates and all was lost!
The Emperor and Empress were magnificently attired and, to be honest, it was the costume and dance, which redeemed the hour spent.
What the Emperor wore was amazing and he was dressed on stage at the very beginning of the performance, whilst the audience found their seats. Layer upon layer of jewelled cloth ensured a rich, stolid physique. It must have weighed a ton.
The mask the Emperor was wearing was decidedly Chinese: white with black features and he sported a long, rectangular beard. His shoes were quite extraordinary too – clog like boats with a high 2” platform. Fortunately he didn’t have to walk very far – or do much by way of dance – a couple of gestures. The female actors seemed to do much more of the work.
Beautiful women wearing extended long sleeved dresses made whirls and twirls in the air, but the choreography of the fighting was spectacular with one woman using a long stick to fight off her enemies. She was a cross between an American cheerleader and Bruce Lee, but far more elaborately dressed.
The way the deceased left the stage was quite interesting. Four bearers covered them up with flags and similar flags were carried on the back of the female warrior representing her killing 40,000 soldiers. The tragedy was the concubine kills herself before the battle is lost.
I can’t say I won’t go to another Chinese opera as I loved the story, but the music, well that’s an entirely different matter.
As are other leisure activities: bird walking and cricket fighting. Yes, instead of walking dogs, there is a demand for birds to be walked. People keep a variety of birds in cages and to ensure they receive daily exercise, bird walkers are hired to swing the cage whilst out walking, thereby the bird cannot remain on its perch, but has to fly within the confines of the bars. I admit I was told about this I did not see it – something to look out for next time.
Another pastimes involving animals is cricket fighting. The crickets are separated via a piece of cardboard, their heads are brushed to annoy them, the cardboard is then removed and the fight begins. If a cricket wins ten fights it’s deemed to be a general, and I hope left to live out the rest of its short life. Sadly many of the insects are buried in a matchbox in the garden!
Which only makes me wonder: when will the story of an opera conclude with the death of a cricket, rather than a concubine or princess?