Red Chamber Goes to the Opera

ByCheng Yuezhu October 8, 2022
Red Chamber Goes to the Opera
Peking Opera artist Li Linxiao performs at the opening ceremony of the cultural festival. [China Daily]


Revered novel is having a new outing, this time to the sound of music, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

When Wang Liping was writing the soundtrack for the TV series Dream of the Red Chamber 35 years ago, it took him more than a year to decide on the theme song.

For Wang the challenge of writing music for this TV rendition of the classical novel written by Cao Xueqin during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was both exciting and daunting.

"No one, neither the director nor the actors, said we were going to make the TV adaptation a showpiece," Wang says.

"We all bore a heavy mental and emotional burden, working hard at our own roles.

Red Chamber Goes to the Opera
Peking Opera performer Qiu Shi will play the role of Jia Baoyu in the Jingyun Honglou concert. [China Daily]


"My days were very difficult, because the standard we set for ourselves was very high. I felt that I wasn't only writing for the audience of that time but also for people of the future."

Both the TV series and the soundtrack he wrote proved to be a classic, the album now having a rating of 9.8 out of 10 on review site Douban.

The soundtrack, with 12 pieces, is being merged with Peking Opera in an upcoming concert, Jingyun Honglou (Dream of the Red Chamber in Peking Opera style), to premiere at the National Library Arts Center toward the end of this month.

The veteran Peking Opera composer Zhu Shaoyu, who is responsible for the concert's music and sound design, says: "The story has been staged many times, in different regional traditional opera styles. But to present these well-known songs in Peking Opera style is a first, and I believe it's a more powerful way of presenting them."

Peking Opera, a quintessential element of Chinese culture, is something with which audience members will be able to develop an affinity, he says.

Even though the 12 pieces are delivered in the form of a concert, they will not be presented as separate programs, he says. The concert will include the central character Jia Baoyu, who will serve as a link between the songs and allude to the original plot.

For some pieces, the team uses dance and chorus to depict scenes from the original book.

"I think this concert is going to be very comprehensive and entertaining," Zhu says.

"Personally I think it's very refreshing and that the audience will like this innovative format."

Wang says he is totally at ease with handing over his work to the team working on the concert.

"They are all mature artists, and I respect their decisions. I can hear that they have gone through a lot of thinking and considerations based on my original work. I am greatly honored that these artists are representing my work using their voices and their experience. It's very interesting to discover in their rendition things I'd never thought of. We all love Dream of the Red Chamber, yet we can have different interpretations."

The concert is a core stage production in the 13th Cao Xueqin Cultural and Art Festival, which opened in Beijing on Sept 19 and will run until December, providing events including stage performances, exhibitions and lectures.

The festival was founded by the Cao Xueqin Society in Beijing and co-hosted by the publicity department of Haidian district of Beijing, the China National Botanical Garden and the Cao Xueqin Society.

The theme of this year's festival is "reading Dream of the Red Chamber together", which is in line with a new national policy, says Wei Lingzhi, secretary-general of the Cao Xueqin Society.

A recent document of the Ministry of Education says middle schools throughout the country will use the same Chinese textbook, and an assignment on the first-year book refers to "reading the book Dream of the Red Chamber". This means that each year the book will have at least 10 million more readers, Wei says.

From October to December this year, 10 lectures will be hosted. Scholars and experts specializing in studying the book and from the education field will speak at these lectures.

Fan Zhibin, a researcher at the Cao Xueqin Memorial Hall in Beijing, says that Dream of the Red Chamber is more like an encyclopedia than a novel because it encapsulates the essence of traditional Chinese culture passed down for centuries.

However, the book is not a highbrow preserve — it has been popular among the masses when it first came out, and since then has influenced the lifestyles and aesthetics of Chinese people through traditional opera, painting and other genres.

"Early on, not that many people could read or write, but a lot of commoners loved it," Fan says.

"They got to know and accept it through traditional opera and paintings. Almost all traditional opera styles have their own stage adaptations of Dream of the Red Chamber. Over the years we've seen a lot of artistic creations, both tangible and intangible, relating to the book.

"Nowadays many people are seeking enjoyment and aesthetic fulfillment, and it's prime time for the development of cultural and creative industries using Dream of the Red Chamber as a medium."


(Source: China Daily)


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