Chinese Department presents Yue Opera

Photos by Sally Ma '18 and courtesy of Visiting Lecturer of Asian Studies Alice Shin-Yi Kao

Students and faculty enjoyed interacting with Wang Jun’an, a ChineseYue Opera singer,  at an event sponsored by the Chinese department.

Visiting Lecturer of Asian Studies Wang Jun’an showed students how to perform a typical Chinese Yue Opera technique after speaking last week.

BY SAUMYA SUDHIR '17

This past week, the Chinese department hosted a Chinese Yue Opera event featuring a critically acclaimed Yue Opera artist, Wang Jun’an. 

The event began with an introduction of Wang Jun’an, who is the lead artist in the play. According to the event’s speakers, her specialty is the portrayal of male protagonists. She began her stage career as an adolescent in China, and has won several prestigious awards, including the most coveted award in the field of opera in China — the Chinese Drama Plum Blossom Award. 

Wang has produced her own solo performance in China, and is famous for incorporating technological innovations in orders to tailor her art to meet the needs of her diverse audiences. Wang is also known for her lectures at educational institutions including Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College and Harvard University.

Wang then took the stage and explained that the Yue Opera is an art form that frequently features a predominantly female cast, with female artists portraying both male and female roles. It is also different from other forms of opera in that the artists sing at a normal pitch, as opposed to the high pitch that is typical of another Chinese opera style, the Jing Opera. Yue Opera also emphasizes the “beauty of the stage,” with performers wearing aesthetically pleasing makeup and costumes. 

She continued by explaining the story of the piece she has been performing for many decades now, “Questioning the Wife.” The play dates back to 1939, when it was performed by the artist Yin GuiFang. The play is a love story revolving around a main character who has historically been appreciated by audiences for his “perfectness,” as he fights for the love of a young lady whose father was murdered by his own. He ultimately wins her over and marries her, despite his family’s denouncement of her. The play covers themes of family, unrequited love and traditions, as it features the Chinese moon festival. 

Wang then went on to give a short performance of the play. Although she was not wearing the traditional costume and makeup, she was able to showcase to the audience the operatic style that they had been learning about throughout the event. After the performance, Wang involved the audience members, giving them tips on the singing and facial expressions used in Yue Opera, and asking them to try these out. She was encouraging of the audience members, saying, “You people are 80 percent close to the graduation level.” 

Qianzhen Fu ’19, who attended the event, enjoyed meeting and interacting with Wang. “Since the singing was so hard, it requires for many tries before we make progress, and when we did it, we felt extremely happy,” said Fu. “It was nice to have many interactions between us and Wang Jun’an. I’m surprised that students came with so much interest in and so many questions about Yue opera.”

Professor Wang Yin’s concluding words explained that the goal of the event was to help students understand and appreciate the beauty of Yue Opera and other kinds of Chinese Opera. Fu agreed that the event served its purpose. “It was definitely a great opportunity for [students] to study a live performance of a professional artist,” said Fu. “Even for us outside the class, it was a precious experience to learn about Yue culture, which is not something we Chinese students talk about every day.”

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