Fri, Nov 19, 2004 - Page 14 News List

Universally appealing Taiwanese opera

By Meredith Dodge  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tianlai and his colorful gang of drifters light up the stage.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTISTS

I can't sing" is something you'll rarely hear a Taiwanese person say. Before the days of KTV, there was the golden era Taiwanese opera, go-a-hi (歌仔戲), which evolved from of the everyday singing of ordinary folk -- farmers, buskers, beggars and the blind.

Though Taiwanese opera no longer dominates the airwaves like it used to, it is by no means gone from the entertainment scene. This weekend, fans and first-timers alike can enjoy two very different manifestations of the genre: Eternal Love (天地有情), a series of one-woman shows performed by Xu Ya-fen (許亞芬), and Yumei and Tianlai (玉梅與天來), put on by Golden Bough Theatre (金枝演社劇團).

Xu Ya-fen was born into Taiwanese opera. A passionate proponent and scholar of the genre, she operates her own theater -- Xu Ya-fen Fine Arts Opera (許亞芬歌仔戲劇坊). Eternal Love, which opens Friday night, is three solo pieces. Friday night's performance is the classic love story Romance by the Green Pool (碧海情天).

Tomorrow's and Sunday's performances feature two more recently composed pieces -- the satirical tragicomedy Travesty of the Emperor (馬賢伏龍) and the story of Taiwan's Robin Hood, The Legend of Liao Tian-ding (廖俠添丁). While the cadence of Xu's singing voice may strike some as reminiscent of the famously acquired taste of Peking opera, the tempo and accompaniment are more lively and refreshing. Clips of Xu's music can be listened to at www.yafen.com.tw.

Though a distinct resemblance can be seen, Taiwanese opera is more accessible and folksy than its older cousin from Beijing. As Taiwanese opera developed, it appropriated the movement style, instruments, props and stage sets used in Peking opera. However, while the majority of Peking opera today remains true to the classical style,Taiwanese opera took in its stride the changes brought by modernization.

The 1960s were the golden era of Taiwanese opera radio broadcast, and later, in the early 1970s, televised Taiwanese opera began to dominate the home-entertainment scene. The rapid growth of Taiwan's commercial economy in the 1970s lead to a revolution in entertainment, opening the doors to foreign music, movies and TV.

"The thing about Taiwanese opera is that it has always been able to incorporate new elements," said Wang Rong-yu (王榮裕), the director of the "new" Taiwanese opera Tianlai and Yumei, when asked if his show could be considered as within the genre.

Tianlai and Yumei is a lighthearted Taiwanese version of West Side Story, where the Jets are Taiwanese-speaking drifters and strip-club owners and the Sharks are Chinese mobsters. Tianlai, a drifter, and Yumei, the favorite younger sister of a Chinese gangster are the two star-crossed lovers.

In outrageous costumes made of brilliantly colored Chinese silk, sequins, lace and pleather, the characters dance, spar and sing around the stage. This energetic production is sure to come across even to the viewer who understands neither Taiwanese nor Mandarin.

Performance notes:

What: Eternal Love (天地有情)

Where: Novel Hall, 3-1, Songshou Rd, Xinyi District, Taipei (台北市信儀區松壽路3-1)

When: Tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at 7:30pm

Tickets: NT$500 to NT$2,000, available online at www.yafen.com.tw or call (02)8787 8770.

What: Yumei and Tianlai (玉梅與天來)

Where: National Taiwan Arts Education Center, 47, Nanhai Rd, Taipei (國立台灣藝術教育館,南海路47號)

When: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm.

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