Fresh from their successful trip to the UK where Contemporary Legend Theater (當代傳奇劇場) presented a reworking of Kafka’s classic Metamorphosis, group founder Wu Hsing-kuo (吳興國) is preparing to launch the third installment of his Legend Opera (傳奇風雅) series next month.
The Taipei Times caught up with Wu at the small theater inside the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a small theater space that in the past was used for lectures, but which has been adopted by Contemporary Legend for its considerably more colorful productions.
“It is quite a small theater space,” Wu said, “but in some ways it is ideal for Beijing Opera. It provides much greater intimacy.” The smaller capacity also allows for many shows over a longer period of time, providing the public with access to a variety of Contemporary Legend productions.
The star turn in Legend Opera 3 is the new production titled Nezha (哪吒 — 少年風火輪), a tale that Wu believes has many elements that will appeal to a contemporary audience. The story itself, a bloody tale of family feuding, friendship and betrayal, has all the elements of a deliciously violent HBO series, and the central character of Nezha, a perpetual child riding round on wheels of fire — which he also uses as weapons — is a perfect excuse for Wu to revive and to develop new acrobatic moves onstage.
“The only person in Chinese opera to use these wheels is Nezha. We’ve had to develop a whole choreography for this character,” Wu said, clearly delighted at the challenge.
The opera itself is a new creation, for although Nezha exists as a character in various opera highlights, there is no opera that has him as the central character. “We have used bits from existing operas and brought the story together, making it more comprehensible to a modern audience,” Wu said. Wu has also added some contemporary elements and modern slang to the script, a device he has found helpful in drawing in younger audiences.
Nezha, as the perpetual child, also provides opportunities for younger performers to take a substantial role in the production. Providing opportunities for young people to hone their skills in professional productions has been a major concern of Wu’s for many years. Wu said that the relative lack of productions of Beijing opera means that young performers rarely have an opportunity to shine. There will be a total of 18 performances of Nezha in Legend Opera 3.
Legend Opera 3, as in previous iterations, will also feature classic operas performed by Wu and other opera greats associated with Contemporary Legend, including opera diva Wei Hai-min (魏海敏).