The Golden Cangue (金鎖記), an innovative work of Beijing opera based on a short story by Eileen Chang (張愛玲), returns to the stage for a third time this weekend. The show, which premiered in 2005 staring Beijing opera virtuoso Wei Hai-min (魏海敏), has proved a huge hit. Through bridging the gap between opera and literature, the performance hit upon the holy grail of traditional theater by directly and effectively appealing to younger audiences. It was a finalist in the performance arts category of the 2006 Taishin Arts Awards, and leading lady Wei has since become a recipient of the National Award for Arts (國家文藝獎).
The Golden Cangue is a work of new Beijing opera and draws on many elements from Western-influenced drama. Although an opera singer by training, Wei has made bold forays into the unconventional.
Wei plays Cao Chi-chiao (曹七巧), a woman from a poor family who fights tenaciously to survive when she marries into a rich but decadent family at the turn of the century. Forced to rely on her wiles against an extended family that despises her, she lashes out at those around her with devastating results, but ultimately is a tragic figure caught in circumstances beyond her control.
The adaptation of the story presents enormous challenges because Chang is a master of psychological drama, and Beijing opera’s strength are in the narrative, its style more suited to physical rather than psychological expression. The Golden Cangue’s success in overcoming these obstacles is in large part due to the talents of Wang An-chi (王安祈), the artistic director of The National Guoguang Opera Company (國立國光劇團), also a recipient of the National Award for Arts, and Chao Hsue-chun (趙雪君), who collaborated on the script. Lush costumes and authentic period styling by Huang Wen-ying (黃文英), who worked as the art director on Ho Hsiao-hsien’s (侯孝賢) Millennium Mambo (千禧曼波) and Goodbye South, Goodbye (南國再見南國), give the production a realism that softens the stiff formalism of old-school Beijing opera.
The operatic presentation of Chang’s story, which mixes traditional themes of jealousy and revenge with more contemporary concerns, such as the exploitation of women and the effects of mental illness and substance abuse, has a remarkably modern feel. The only criticism that might be leveled at the show, based on the 2006 performance, is that Wei is always in danger of simply overwhelming the rest of the cast with her powerful presence, but as a high proportion of the audience is there to see her, and her alone, this is a minor consideration.
The Golden Cangue takes to the stage at the Metropolitan Hall (城市舞台), 25, Bade Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市八德路三段25號) today and tomorrow at 7:30pm and tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are NT$400 to NT$1,500 and are available through ERA ticketing.