Fri, Oct 17, 2008 - Page 13 News List

Spring Sun says bon voyage with butterflies

Ann Lang’s performance troupe is bowing out with a ‘huangmei’-style musical revival of the most memorable Chinese love story

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

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The story of The Butterfly Lovers (梁山伯與祝英台) occupies much the same position in Chinese culture as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet does in Western culture. It is the archetype of love stories, and so not surprisingly it has been reinterpreted in virtually every performance medium from traditional Beijing opera to Western classical music — The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto (梁祝小提琴協奏曲) by He Zhanhao (何占豪) and Chen Gang (陳鋼) is one of the most famous examples of Western classical music written to a Chinese theme. This weekend, the Spring Sun Performance Arts Troupe (春禾劇團) is reviving the story in one of its most popular incarnations as a farewell before bowing out of the theatrical scene.

The Spring Sun Performing Arts Troupe, which is led by actress Ann Lang (郎祖筠) and was associated with the Spring International Digital Multimedia Group (春暉國際數位多媒體), made a big splash on the arts scene when it was first created in 2000. After a period of enormous success in straddling traditional performance and electronic media, it had become quiescent in recent years as Lang juggled numerous performance commitments. According to manager Woody He (何曜先), the troupe is now preparing to disband due to financial pressures, and this large-scale musical of a much-loved tale is both the troupe’s swan song and a celebration of all it has tried to achieve.

The Butterfly Lovers is widely regarded as one of the four great Chinese love stories, along with The Tale of the White Snake (白蛇傳), The Cowherd and the Weaver Maid (牛郎織女) and Meng Jiang Nu Cries Down the Great Wall (孟姜女哭長城).

The version being presented by Spring Sun is based on the huangmei opera (黃梅調) version that was immortalized in the Shaw Brothers’ now legendary 1963 smash hit Love Eterne (梁山伯與祝英台) starring Betty Loh Ti (樂蒂) and Ivy Ling (凌波), which generated an frenzy for cinematic versions of huangmei opera in Taiwan and is still readily available on DVD around Taipei. It tells the story of Zhu Yingtai (祝英台), a beautiful and intelligent young woman from a wealthy family who prevails upon her parents to send her to school in Hangzhou; her friendship with a fellow student, the impoverished Liang Shanbo (梁山伯), which gradually develops into love (Zhu had entered the school dressed as a man); the absolute opposition of Zhu’s parents to a match; the death of Liang in the anguish of love; and Zhu’s death and the transformation of the couple into butterflies. It is a tragedy but also has many comic elements, such as the gradual discovery by Liang that his best friend is a woman, and also in the interaction of Zhu’s maid Yingxin and Liang’s servant Sijiu.

PERFORMANCE NOTES

WHAT: The Butterfly Lovers (梁山伯與祝英台) by Spring Sun Performing Arts Troupe (春禾劇團)

WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 7:30pm; tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pm

WHERE: National Theater, Taipei City

TICKETS: NT$600 to NT$3,000, available through NTCH ticketing


The show’s director, Shan Cheng-chu (單承矩), said the current production aims to revive the memory of the film — it contains all the music and songs from that production — while giving it a contemporary flavor and bringing in elements from television variety shows and other modern popular entertainments into the humorous parts of the story.

Huangmei opera is by far the most easily accessible of the Chinese operatic forms, both musically and in its singing style, which is very close to vernacular Mandarin and does away with many of the vocal flourishes of Beijing opera. Love Eterne gave the huangmei opera version of The Butterfly Lovers the kind of cultural immortality that is utterly removed from questions of quality or taste — in this respect it is rather like The Sound of Music, the songs and story of which are know by people who claim never to have seen the film.

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