Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Born Performer


For Chinese opera fans, making a pilgrimage to Mei Lanfang's home is a must in Beijing.

He is considered the best opera singer, actor and dancer of female Peking opera roles. Mei was born in 1894, and his father and grandfather were both well-known opera performers.

With his early training in this art form, Mei already established himself in his teens. However, he rose to even greater fame when he brought Peking opera to the West, particularly the United States, Japan and Russia.

In his home, a siheyuan, or courtyard home, there are pictures of him posing with the likes of Charlie Chaplin (sans mustache) and Mary Pickford. He even got an honourary degree from the University of California.

In his later years, he spent most of his time teaching, creating a "Mei Lanfang style", where he documented in photographs the exact hand gestures and poses for certain situations, from holding a particular object to signifying emotions like shyness with the position of the fingers.

His home also exhibits numerous studio poses complete with costumes and makeup, along with some actual silk robes he wore on stage. Mei was also a painter, as there are many scrolls showing off his art work that are pretty impressive.

The man also had time for his personal life, as there is a family portrait of him, his wife and four children, who lived in Hong Kong during the Sino-Japanese war.

There are many photographs of him swearing an oath to the Chinese Communist Party and posing with a bust of Chairman Mao. But they pale in comparison to the colourful life he lived on stage.

3 comments:

Larry said...

It was after the founding of the Chinese Republic that women were allowed in Chinese Opera. My mother, who was born in 1900, along with my father, became active in the Vancouver Chinese Opera theatre scene in the twenties and thirties.
According to my sister, Mother played the dashing, handsome General while my father played the fair maiden!

ks said...

unfortunately the training of peking opera singing is so hard and strict it is becoming to be extinct. also the singing of a female role by a male has some homophobic consequences. i hope it can be somewhat modernized so that this ancient art form can be revived, popularized and perpetuated.

ks said...

unfortunately the training of peking opera singing is so hard and strict it is becoming to be extinct. also the singing of a female role by a male has some homophobic consequences. i hope it can be somewhat modernized so that this ancient art form can be revived, popularized and perpetuated.