On Friday, The Golden Cangue (金鎖記), an innovative work of Beijing opera based on a short story by Eileen Chang (張愛玲), returned for a third Taipei production since its 2005 debut, with Beijing opera virtuoso Wei Hai-min (魏海敏) in the leading role of Cao Chi-chiao (曹七巧), one of Chinese literature’s great tragic antiheroes.
The role was created for Wei and her command of the nuanced performance has not wavered over the years, as her character evolves from an ambitious and passionate woman willing to sacrifice everything, to a bitter, twisted crone addicted to opium and inflicting destruction on all those with whom she comes into contact.
Little has changed from past productions, though the second half seems to have been tightened somewhat, so that Cao’s gradual mental disintegration is not quite as grueling for the audience. The introduction of English subtitles for this production is a great boon and hopefully will lead to a larger non-Chinese speaking audience enjoying this new form of dramatic Beijing opera. Unfortunately, audio production once again was far from adequate, a criticism that is not restricted to the Metropolitan Hall, where The Golden Cangue was staged.
Meanwhile at the Bamboo Studio Theater (竹圍工作室), Sun Son Theater (身聲演繹劇場) staged a revival of its Aurora (光音) production to a packed house. Friday’s performance, in celebration of the troupe’s 10th anniversary, was a captivating fusion of modern theater, dance and world music, with fire dancer Chang Yu-wei (張育瑋), also known as Huo Pao (火寶), illuminating the stage while the actors, led by Chien Yan-chen (簡妍臻) and Chang Wei-lai (張偉來), were silhouetted behind gauzy black curtains, behind which they could be seen twitching, tossing, twirling and shouting.
Rhythms were provided by tabla drummer Toshihiro Wakaike and sitar player Ryohei Kanemistu, along with other musicians on a range of traditional instruments, including the didgeridoo, Malaysian kulintangan and Tibetan gong.
Each scene evoked a different emotional landscape. One of the more mesmerizing saw the svelte dancers chanting and howling around a bonfire to the eerie sound of a cello, gong and drums. A few scenes were quite jarring, such as one that showed bodies hanging from the ceiling by red ropes.
One minor complaint: the Bamboo Studio Theater, located near the Zhuwei (竹圍) MRT station, is not the most well-ventilated performance space. The smoke from the candles and torches likely caused headaches and dizziness among some audience members.
As of press time, there were still seats available for performances this coming Friday and Saturday. Tickets cost NT$400 and can be purchased at NTCH ticket outlets or online at www.artsticket.com.tw.