Jingju Theater Company of Beijing: Peking Opera Festival Europe 2013

When the curtains fall after the opening performance, the spectators leap up from their seats and reward the artists with standing ovations. The intensity of the stage presence and the breath-taking acrobatic stunts had captivated young and old.On the following six performance nights of the European Tour 2013 of the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing, the same picture could be observed. It is the grand applause that makes the members of Peking Opera ensemble realize why it was worth to travel such a long way.

In total 70 people – actors, musicians, technicians, costume designers, make-up artistsand tour managers from the No. 1 Troupe of the Jingju Theater Company – the most exquisite of its three ensembles - had made their wayto the Netherlands straight from Beijing, the cradle of Peking Opera. The performances of the Peking Opera Festival in Lucent Danstheater in The Hague, in the Brucknerhaus Linz in Austria and in the Teatro Piccolo di Milano in Italy were arranged by the Chinese performing arts promoter Wu Promotion.

The curiosity about Peking Opera is big. In The Hague, some of the audience had the privilege to see what is happening before a show in the backstage. A glance in the dressing rooms breaks the secrets about the abundant make up and costumes. Two Dutch admirers of Peking Opera explain how to recognize the bad guy from the facial make up color, what the thickness of the shoe sole has to do with the social status of a character and many other curiosities.

Before the performers appear on stage, in each city, a moderator explained some basic knowledge on Peking Opera in the local language. We learn how you can tell from the music what is happening on stage, the meaning of certain gestures and why a table can be a bed and a watchtower at the same time. In Milan we had the honour to invite two experts on Peking Opera from the local Confucius Institute on stagewho inspired the audience with their insider knowledge. Did you know for example that the Chinese translation of "bravo" is "hao"? The audience in Milan immediately learnt how to shout out an "hao" to encourage the actorstoperform a challenging singing passage or a stunt.

The repertoire of the Peking Opera Festival unites the whole range of subjects we know from Western opera: love, murder, jealousy, intrigueand revenge.The pieces give an interesting insight into Chinese legends and literature. The story of „The Legend of the White Snake", for example, is known toevery Chinese and has been used for numerous films and TV shows. "The Red Maid" is derived from "The Story of the Western Wing", one of the most famous Chinese novels from the 13th century.

So that everyone can understand, what is happening on stage, the translation of the sung and spoken parts can be read on a screen. Sometimes it is hard to follow, because it can become pretty busy on stage. While "At the Cross Roads" features a fierce combat in the dark with only two actors, in "Presenting a Pearl on Rainbow Bridge" almost thirty people present gripping martial arts scenes at the same time. One of the highlights surely was the performance of the group leader of the No. 1 Troupe of the Jingju Theater Company, Wang Rongrong that enchanted the spectators with herimpressive singing skills and elegant movements in the role of the White Snake.

When interviewed by the TV channelLT1 in Linz, Wang Rongrong said: "Becoming a Peking Opera performer is a very intensive process. It requires total commitment and great efforts. You have to be able to control each part of the body, from head to foot; furthermore you have to master special singing techniques and constantly refine your mimicry skills. It is a process that lasts at least ten years." The Peking Opera Festival received great attention from both local and Chinese media. Multiple press articles as well as reviews on TV and on the radio paid tribute to the performers underlining the grand quality of their representations and the enthusiasm that was aroused among the audience.

In each city,the ensemble was pleased to welcome a number of selected guests. In The Hague, the Chinese Ambassador in the Netherlands, Mr. Chen Xu, thanked the performers for the marvellous staging; also several members of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised the performance during a special reception that accompanied the event. In Milan the Consule Mr. Zhao Xiangdong and his wife as well as the Vice Consule General, Mr. Yan Hualong and the newly appointed Vice Consule General, Mr. Chen Baoxiang attended the show and joined the party after the performance that Piccolo Teatro had organized for the actors and for special guests.

Besides the work, the whole crew was happy that on the road through Europe there was time for some sightseeing and shopping. Of course Italy was the place of interest. St. Mark's Square and the canals in Venice will not be forgotten any time soon!

Souvenirs were also offered to the people attending the shows. Several Peking Opera items like scarves, fans or postcards were sold apart from the program brochures that contained a lot of interesting information about what is Peking Opera. For the first time we conducted an audience survey to find out how people liked the performances. We are proud to say that the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, so we are already looking forward to the next festival edition. For everyone, who would like to be informed about upcoming tours, please subscribe here for our newsletter!