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Shanghai Opera still resounds across time

By HE QI in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-14 07:18
Huju Opera is a representative of Shanghai culture. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Shanghai Opera Art Festival's closing ceremony in December was staged in a venue befitting the art form's legacy-a century-old mansion known as Beudin House in Shanghai's Xuhui district.

The mansion was built in 1919. It was once owned by Kuomintang general Bai Chongxi. The building was later used as a restaurant before becoming the Shanghai Huju Opera Theater, which opened in December.

"Shanghai Opera, or huju, is a representative of Shanghai culture. So, many of its scenes and stories take place in shikumen, or old mansions like this," theater head Mao Shanyu says.

"I could think of no better theater for Shanghai Opera than Beudin House."

The building not only stages Shanghai Opera performances but also hosts a second-floor exhibition hall chronicling the art form's history. It also hosts two karaoke jukeboxes that play such opera hits as Canary.

The third story is a workshop where influential artists promote the appreciation and development of the opera.

The building next to the mansion hosts training rooms and rehearsal spaces.

"This venue illustrates the support of the people and government in helping us protect and advance this form of traditional Shanghai culture. We will use it as a communication hub, where people can watch and learn about huju," Mao says.

"Improved government policies and focus on traditional culture have given us hope and greater financial support. People agree that traditional culture needs to be valued."

She says public support for traditional culture has become increasingly obvious in recent years. Mao points out more schools are inviting their theater to promote the art. "Today, many parents hope their children learn more about traditional Shanghai culture, such as the dialect and huju," Mao says.

She also points out more private theaters are hosting Shanghai Opera shows.

In 2016, the theater signed a three-year agreement with Peking University to bring three performances to the school's campus-Deng Shichang, Thunderstorm and The Daughter of Dunhuang.

Over 1,500 teachers and students attended the debut of The Daughter of Dunhuang at the university in 2019. The show has since been performed 60 times for more than 40,000 people.

The theater also brought Thunderstorm and The Daughter of Dunhuang to Tsinghua University.

"It's a great pleasure to see young people fall in love with Shanghai Opera. This art form will have a bright future only when the young pursue it," Mao says.

The theater also conducts classes in primary schools and organizes opera festivals and competitions.

"We insist on enrolling young students. We asked education authorities for beneficial policies to attract more nonlocal students. Depending on young locals alone isn't enough. We need a larger base," she adds.

"We should create new content based on the goal of protecting tradition. Let middle-aged actors become role models, who appeal to younger generations, while adding new elements."

But while the government, theaters and stakeholders have been working to raise Shanghai Opera's profile, Mao points out there's still room for improvement in quality opera production, talent attraction and theater promotion.

Mao's venue will stage Secret No 1, Sister Jiang and other productions to celebrate the Communist Party of China's centennial in 2021.

"We want to use the theater to do promotion, create more immersive performances, and host more interactive and exchange activities to preserve and explore our traditions."

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