City to debut new musical adaptation of Chinese classic

2021-03-26 12:04:43

A new musical production of The Orphan of Zhao will premiere at Shanghai Culture Square in May. It will travel to 14 other cities in China. [Photo provided to China Daily] The first Chinese tragedy to be translated into European languages, The Orphan of Zhao, will take the form of a new musical premiering at Shanghai Culture Square in May. Following the Shanghai leg from May 27 to June 6, the musical will travel to 14 other cities in China, including Nanjing, Jiangsu province, Hangzhou and Ningbo, Zhejiang province, and Shenzhen and Guangzhou, Guangdong province. The ancient Chinese play by Ji Junxiang in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) tells the story of Cheng Ying, who sacrificed his baby son to replace the only survivor and heir of a persecuted family. Cheng then raised the latter as his own, only to reveal the truth when the young man was grown up and ready for revenge. The tale, which was first translated into European languages by Voltaire and Goethe, has through the centuries become one of the most widely performed plays from China, with many theater and opera adaptations created. Shanghai-based theater director Xu Jun had been considering making a new musical production for the play since 2015, but he wanted a new interpretation of the story where the characters' motivations are convincing for modern audiences. Xu was introduced to the English adaptation of the Chinese play by British poet James Fenton in 2017, when he was on an exchange visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company. "I was fascinated by Fenton's writing, which lit up the dark corners in the story that had long been neglected," said Xu at the media conference for the musical at Shanghai Culture Square on March 18. Xu adds that he was impressed with the British author's understanding of Chinese culture, as well as his philosophical insight. Fenton says in a video clip that he created the play on a short notice in 2012 at the request of Gregory Doran, director of the RSC. Though he was enchanted by the play, Fenton immediately noticed some unanswered questions in the minds of English audiences. The sacrificed child in the story was "somewhat forgotten by the play", he says, and without altering the story, he wanted to acknowledge the cruelty of the world depicted. This was why he added the ghost of the dead boy in the last scene. Xu liked the idea so much that he decided to have the ghost witness the entire story instead of appearing only once. For the first time in China's theater history, the boy will have a body and his own will. The Chinese version of Fenton's play, translated by Jin Shenghua and Peng Jingxi, will be published by Shanghai Translation Publishing House when the musical makes its debut. While Fenton acknowledged that he never expected the play to "find its way back to China and in the form of a musical", he also recognized that the story possessed good material for music. "The first thing I did when sitting down to write the play was to write the four songs," he says. These songs were later adapted into Chinese by lyric writer Liang Mang, who together with composer Jin Peida has worked with Xu on his previous two musical productions, Jews in Shanghai in 2015 and Lady of the White Snake in 2018. If you go The Orphan of Zhao 7:30 pm, May 27-June 5. Shanghai Culture Square, 36 Yongjia Road, Huangpu district. 021-6472-6000.