One of our intentions at Pantomime Songs Limited is to bring a wide variety of cultural influences into our songs. We have long been fans of the Japanese kabuki theatre and we have several songs in the early stages that were influenced by its wonderful sounds and stories and the vivid bright costumes and make up that one sees in the Ginza theatre. These days kabuki is typically staged in a selected fashion – a few scenes from one of the lengthy, all day-long productions that were designed to take the Shogun’s mind off fighting and politics for a while.
So, while we were in Shanghai, last month, we wanted to try Chinese opera too. We were not disappointed by the Hangzhou Opera at the splendid Tianchan Yifu theatre in Fuzhou Road – a must if you are passing through this amazing city.
Again, it was a collection of scenes (four of them) but this time they were from four separate operas * brought together to make one uniquely compiled story – a great idea, which worked brilliantly. The colours and sets were amazing and the acting was spell-binding. The songs (or more properly, arias) were not of the “intro-verse-chorus-coda” format but more like stories that went from phase to phase, rarely returning to a common tune. At first this is a little difficult to follow (especially in Chinese!) but soon you are completely swept away by the beauty of the whole thing. The orchestra produced great swirling waves of magical music, and then in the ‘recitative’ parts just one or two small instruments were used to create a dramatic, almost tragic, effect. Chinese music is incredibly subtle and beautiful: we came home proud owners of a zhong ruan or “moon guitar” – great fun.
We also checked out the “Noh” theatre costumes at Shanghai Museum: some of the fantastic masks are really worth a long look! Noh is another Japanese dramatic art form but you also find it in China; the name comes from the common language base and means “skill” or “talent”.
Our trip made a lasting impression: watch out for a couple of new Chinese-influenced Pantomime Songs – currently on the drawing board!
* The four operas that were ‘sampled’ were:
- The Green Jade Hairpin
- Interrogate the Husband and Seek His Return
- Spill Water in Front of the Horse
- Sacrificed Youth (Quingchunji) – made into a film in 1985.
See also The Peony Pavilion – one of the greatest Chinese opera stories
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