The ups and downs of legendary women’s lives

The Peking Opera "Mother" performed by Wuhan Peking Opera Theatre created an extraordinary mother-Ge Jianhao. Her son Cai Hesen and daughter-in-law Xiang Jingyu were both famous early leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and her daughter Cai Chang was one of the earliest party member in the Communist Party of China (CPC), a pioneer and outstanding leader of China women’s movement. As a pioneer and revolutionary of women’s education in China, Ge Jianhao is admired by people for her persevering and inspiring personal struggle and ups and downs of revolutionary experience.

The Peking Opera Mother tells the story of the heroic mother Ge Jianhao and her revolutionary battles with her children and daughter-in-law with a dramatic and modern stage paradigm, bringing the audience into that magnificent red revolutionary era.

The story was refreshing from the beginning. The author firmly grasped the legendary experience of the heroic mother Ge Jianhao and made a fuss: in the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China, the social situation was turbulent, and the old and new ideological trends collided fiercely. Ge Jianhao broke through the shackles of the feudal society for thousands of years and boldly safeguarded the dignity of marriage-divorced his concubine. The screenwriter put such a plot at the beginning of the whole play and took the lead. In fact, there are many women who dare to fight in love and marriage in operas, such as forcing Zhu Maichen to divorce her Cui Shi in "Broken Mountain" and coaxing Zhou She to write a divorce certificate in "Saving the Wind" to save her sister Zhao Paner. But no matter how fierce their struggle is, they still can’t get out of the feudal ideological framework that men are superior to women. And Ge Jianhao’s way of treating marriage has more modern female subjective consciousness. At first, she took her children thousands of miles to Shanghai to find her husband, Cai Rongfeng, and just entered the door, she met Cai’s concubine, Yan Hong. Ge Jianhao resolutely resisted, based on Qiu Jin’s "women’s self-reliance" theory, put forward "Hugh’s theory", simply solved the problem neatly, led the children home, and ended the marriage.

In the following story, Ge Jianhao enrolled with his children and grandchildren at the age of 50; Change Grameen’s name to Ge Jianhao in public; Put your feet for your young daughter Cai Chang; Stop Cai Rongfeng from selling women as concubines; Selling ancestral gold rings supports children to study abroad and return to China to serve the motherland … Many details show Ge Jianhao’s courage and perseverance.

"Studying Abroad" is a turning point of the whole drama from comedy to serious sadness, and the theme of the play has also changed from the history of women’s personal inspirational growth to the shaping of heroic mothers who adhere to revolutionary beliefs and bid farewell to martyrs’ children and daughters-in-law. At this point, the plot moves from clear and lively externalization of contradictions and conflicts to deeper dissection and rendering of the characters’ inner feelings, and the story progresses gradually, and the expression form moves from pure realism to the combination of freehand brushwork and realism. The addition of large lyric aria creates space for the second creation of Beijing opera singing.

Ge Jianhao’s actor Liu Ziwei is the pillar of Wuhan Peking Opera Theatre. In the aspect of composing modern operas, she led the team to work hard for many years and explored a road of innovation of "Han School" Peking Opera which is different from Beijing School and Shanghai School. In the view of art, she pursues the concept of "great drama", highlighting drama and mixing various cross-border art forms. In performance, she learned from others’ strong points, changed from one teacher to another, played down the genre consciousness subjectively, broke down the barriers of operas, and avoided the homogenization and facelift of roles. She is a rare artistic practitioner. Liu Ziwei is good at career spanning. In the past, his roles were more inclined to Hua Dan, Tsing Yi, Hua Shan and other young and middle-aged people. In Mother, Ge Jianhao was over 40 when she appeared, so Lao Dan’s scenes were obviously aggravated. In most plays, everyone called her "the old lady". This adds an important puzzle to Liu Ziwei’s role gallery. She is ingenious and uses Hua Dan’s skills to interpret the characters: in the scene of Kao Xue, she changed her name in public and claimed that she was a "newborn" young man. Since then, in the performance of the couplet question and answer, she completely recited and performed in the tone of Little Hua Dan, and interpreted the hidden girlish feeling in the characters’ hearts. This dislocation is very creative.

Huang Dingshan, the invited director of Wuhan Peking Opera Theatre, directed the play. He is a versatile director who is good at crossing borders. He has previously directed many types of plays, such as drama, opera, musical, opera, film and television drama. This integration of multi-artistic categories coincides with Liu Ziwei’s view that team drama is higher than "drama". In the play, the use of parallel montage, fade-in and fade-out transitions, high-light close-ups and intricate narratives, the jumping-in and jumping-out of the chorus and modern dance troupe, and the ease between the two roles of group performance and commentary are all distinctive features and highlights.

In "Biezi", the director used the change of light and shadow to perform a thrilling miniature pantomime. Ge Jianhao kept watch for the underground party comrades at the meeting in Shanghai alley. When she found that the spy was approaching and informed the people in the house to move in time, she and the spy were alert to shuttle back and forth between bamboo hangers drying clothes and quilts. At this time, the main lights on the stage were all extinguished, and only the chasing light that was a diversion led the audience’s line of sight. Another typical scene is the arrest of daughter-in-law Xiang Jingyu. The director used the rapid switching of light and shadow in different positions on the stage to enter Beijing Opera in film and television language, with group dance and increasingly tense atmosphere music. In just a few minutes, it condensed a series of actions such as Xiang Jingyu’s meeting with comrades working underground, holding a meeting, being betrayed by traitors, being surrounded by spies in the crowd, being imprisoned, being killed, etc., which was as thrilling as a spy war movie.

Singing teams and group dancing scenes are widely used in the play. There are Beijing dialect chorus, bel canto chorus and Hunan dialect folk song chorus; There are also the integration of traditional Peking Opera tunes and symphony melodies, and the interweaving of Peking Opera martial arts routines, copying scenes and modern dance performances, which have built a three-dimensional and sensible overall structure for realizing various functions such as rapid transition, setting off the artistic atmosphere of specific scenes, and making comments in time during the story process, greatly enriching the stage expression of Peking Opera.

In addition, in the background of the stage, the old photos of the prototype characters in the play are superimposed, and the projection and restoration of specific historical scenes are combined with the physical landscape to create a nostalgic feeling like a film movie. With the stylized performance of Peking Opera in the open field in the foreground, the whole stage is turned into a big picture frame, bearing the moving images of the revolutionaries who are dusted by history but will not be forgotten, with a long aftertaste.

Generally speaking, the Peking Opera Mother continues the production concept of Liu Ziwei’s team in Wuhan Peking Opera Theatre, and puts Ge Jianhao’s legendary experience of half a life of twists and turns on the stage with the individualized artistic practice of "Han School" Peking Opera, adding a lot of color to the image of revolutionary mother on the Peking Opera stage.

(Author: Luo Song, editor-in-chief and editor-in-chief of China Drama magazine)