Tue, Jul 22, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Opera maven receives award

GU CHENG-CHIOU The Chinese opera master received a prestigious cultural award this year and she shared her experience with Taiwanese audiences over the decades

By Diane Chang  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Gu Cheng-chiou, above, explained to the ``Taipei Times'' that highly specific gestures serve to express emotion and meaning in the absence of the large number of props evident in other dramatic forms of artistic expression.

TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

All celebrated art forms are remembered through the names of the masters who make their art legendary. The Seventh National Cultural Arts Award in the drama category this year was given to Gu Cheng-chiou (顧正秋), widely regarded as a pioneer in the development of Chinese opera in Taiwan.

"I am very honored to receive this award. I feel like I never stopped performing, even though I retired years ago," said Gu. She said on an telephone interview with the Taipei Times.

"I am also delighted to see that Chinese opera is still a highly respected art," Gu said, commenting that . He said that he views the National Foundation of Culture and Art's decision to give her the award is recognition of the contribution of Chinese opera to Taiwanese culture.

"There are so many more forms of entertainment now, but watching Chinese opera becomes addictive. If we don't want this art to die out, actors must uphold their responsibility of continuing this tradition."

This is not Gu's first National Cultural Arts Award; she was the recipient of the Special Achievement Award in 1987.

Gu, born in Nanjing in 1929 with the name Ting Tso-hwa (丁祚華), discovered the addictive powers of Chinese opera as a young girl.

"When my mother and godmother brought me along to watch operas in a small theater in Shanghai, I was at first fascinated by the concave mirrors that were placed by the entrance to attract children like myself."

The theater attracted vast audiences with their family-style operas, which often featured child performers.

"When I saw girls my age singing onstage I was so envious," reminisced Gu. "But as I grew older, I became attracted to the glamorous actresses with their beautiful voices. There were so many variations among characters, so many distinct personalities."

In 1939, Gu auditioned for the newly founded Shanghai Theater School under the name Gu Shiao-chiou, similar to the name of her godmother, Gu Jen-chiou (顧劍秋). She later enrolled as Gu Cheng-chiou, the name she is known by to this day.

In a highly competitive atmosphere, Gu trained hard to be one of the best Chinese opera singers at the school. The school principal, eager to help pave Gu's future path, invited renowned and revered Chinese opera singer Mei Lan-feng (梅蘭芳) to watch her performance. Afterward, Mei said that Gu showed promise, the principal took Gu to visit Mei at his private residence, where he agreed to take Gu under his wing.

In 1945, at the age of 16, Gu Cheng-chiou graduated at the top of her class.

A few years later, Gu formed the Gu Cheng-chiu Opera Troupe, and held numerous performances in Nanjing, Xuchou and Qingdao with the group. In 1948, Gu led her troupe to Taipei upon the recommendation of a friend.

"I remember walking along Chungshan North Road and Yen-ping Road, areas that were always busy and teeming with life in those days. I was afraid that the Taiwanese wouldn't come to watch us perform at the Yung-Le Theater (永樂戲院)."

However, her fears were proved wrong. "I wasn't sure if the predominantly Taiwanese-speaking audience could understand what I was singing, but I could see that they were so focused on my movements and expressions. In China, people would sometimes walk out in the middle of a show, but here the audience was always so passionate," said Gu.

Fans were so enraptured by her performances that they would try to find her backstage at the end of performances. "I remember some women who came to tell me that they loved the performances, and even though they couldn't speak a lot of Mandarin, we became friends."

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