Loving Shakespeare in China: Part 2

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Shakespeare features prominently in Chinese opera. While I was in Shanghai at the Shanghai International Shakespeare Forum (hosted by Donghua University) there was a performance of an operatic version of Richard III. It was given by the Shanghai Theatre Academy in classical Beijing style and lasted only an hour and twenty minutes (without an interval). The production was compelling on many levels. I could enjoy the music, the vocal strength and range of the performers, and the side-titles. It was a pleasure seeing how close the libretto was to Shakespeare’s play (having been translated, adapted, and translated back into English), as well as recognising elements of the story. There were two people playing Richard, his public and his private persona. The scene between Richard and Lady Anne (act one, scene two in Shakespeare) was particularly strong. In fact, the Shakespeare scholar, David Bevington, who was sitting just behind me, said it was one of the best Lady Anne scenes he’d ever seen (praise indeed!). To stage a Shakespeare history play at all was itself unusual; they tend not to be performed or studied very much in China. But perhaps Richard III is an exception, since it’s a history play (like Richard II) cast in the form of a tragedy.

A few days later, it was my pleasure to meet Dr Li Xiaolin at Zhejiang University, herself an expert in Chinese operatic versions of Shakespeare. Here she is talking (in English and Chinese) about her deep interest in a really significant cultural expression of Shakespeare in China.

Shortly after this short video post was filmed, Dr Li Xiaolin was going to be teaching Jane Eyre, which opened up another delightful and fascinating conversation. More on Shakespeare and China next week…

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • “‘Tell us about your interest in Shakespeare!” – “Okay… (deep breath)…”

  • Gabymalcolm

    It’s interesting that the opera production used two performers in the role of Richard – for private and public personae. It reminds me of Edward Gordon Craig’s plans for using two actors in the role of Hamlet.

    Great posts.

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