Captain Deng Shichang (邓世昌) played by Zhang
(Shanghai Opera Troupe 上海沪剧团)
到如今, 我是枪杆不拿拿钓竿, 竟作悠闲钓鱼翁。
There are many popular opera styles in Shanghai,
but only Shanghai Opera is authentically grown from this
land; and only one play in Shanghai Opera, and in fact in
all Chinese operas, that nearly brought the entire city to
stand still in the late 70s. It was the time when The Sea
Battle 1894 (甲午海战) was screened on TV.
By then there was no colour televisions yet,
not in Shanghai, and very few households even possessed a
black & white TV set. On the night when the Sea Battle
1894 was shown, those who did have a small set (normally
12 inch) would place it outside for all their neighbours
and passersby to watch. If you lucky enough you could watch
the opera from the start to the finish on your way home after
work, with just few episodes missing.
It was indeed a unique era when Chinese people
sincerely revered their national heroes and were keen to
make their own contribution in a united effort to build a
Shanghai Opera is closely related to more ancient
opera forms - Wuxi Opera (锡滩) and Suzhou tone (苏滩) - and
has absorbed wide range of local folk music. Its singing
and performing fashion is not as masculine as that of Beijing
Opera which is traditionally played by all-male-actors,
nor is it as soft as Yue
Opera that is conventionally played by all-female-actress.
In Shanghai Opera actors and actress seldom cross dresses.
Like Beijing and Yue Opera, Shanghai Opera
also accommodates a variety of schools, with Ding Style (Ding
Shie 丁是娥), Shi Style (Shi Xiaoying 石筱英) and Yang Style (Yang
Feifei杨飞飞) being the most cherished female ones, while Jie
Style (Jie Hongyuan 解洪元, Ding's husband), Wang Style (Wang
Pansheng 王盘声) and Shao Style (Shao Binsheng 邵滨生) the most
popular male approaches.
In the Sea Battle 1894, the leading role was
played by Zhang Qing (张清, 1933 -) in Wang Style （王派）. Zhang’s
performance is utterly superb, as always, and his portrayal
of the national icon is totally unique - no one did better
than him before with Wang Style which is specialised in depicting
romantic young scholars, and none after, as he manages to
interpret the captain in such a soulful and tuneful manner
yet remains to be straightforward and blocky (糯而无脂粉气, as
a Shanghai Opera lover commented online).
Indeed, today's China needs fewer sweethearts but
more warriors, and fewer cheap entertainers but more real
artists, like Zhang Qing, so as to help strengthening the
noble spirits in order to prepare the nation for tough
new challenges looming so closely ahead.