Chinese opera singer remembered with performances in New York, Washington

Updated: 2014-08-21 06:12

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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China's most famous Beijing opera singer, Mei Lanfang, would have turned 120 years old this year. To celebrate that anniversary, six classic operas will be performed in New York and Washington in his honor.

Mei's son Mei Baojiu and the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing will present Farewell My Concubine, The Goddess of Heaven Scatters Flowers, Lian Jinfeng - Pierce the Mussel, Resisting Jin Troops, Drunken Beauty, and Lady Mu Guiying to audiences in New York and Washington.

"These performances serve to do two things: one is to honor my father Mei Lanfang, and the other is to help us reminisce what Beijing opera was for our country," Mei's son told the press in New York on Wednesday.

Born in 1894 to a family of performers, Mei became a cultural ambassador of Beijing opera, bringing the style of opera performance overseas throughout his career. He first toured the US in 1929, where he was well received by celebrities like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.

"Their successful performances bridged the Sino-American chasm created by cultural differences between the East and the West," said Mei's son in a statement. "As former United States Minister to China [Paul Samuel Reinsch] said, "These six months of successful performances forged a stronger friendship between Chinese and American people — how wonderful is that!"

Mei's contributions to Beijing opera style became known as the "Mei School", and together with the Russian Stanislavski System and German Brecht System formed the "Three Performing Systems of the World", according to the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing. He is one of China's most famous Dan performers, which are male performers who played female characters.

Beijing opera—known for colorful makeup and embroidered costumes—involves a combination of stage speech and song, as well as martial arts and dancing. The performance form has a history of about 200 years and was enjoyed all across China until Mei brought his troupe abroad for the first time and has since been performed around the world.

"Our interest in bringing these operas to New York is primarily not for monetary reasons," said Li Enjie, director of the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing. "We want to bring this art form to western audiences. Even if we don't make any money this time, we want to bring Beijing opera overseas and to spread its influence in the art world. We want to see how audiences react and what kind of elements they enjoy."

The Jingju Theater Company of Beijing was established in 1979 and is one of the largest Beijing opera groups in China. For the New York and Washington performances, there are more than 120 performers from the theater company, including Zhang Xinyue, Dou Xiaoxuan, Chen Junjie, and Shang Wei.

The operas will be performed at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Square on Aug 23 and at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington on Aug 27. Lady Mu Guiying Takes Command will be performed in New York on Aug 24 and in Washington on Aug 28. Tickets begin at $22 at the Koch Theater and $25 at the Kennedy Center and can be purchased online at and

Chinese opera singer remembered with performances in New York, Washington

Dou Xiaoxuan plays the role of Goddess inThe Goddess of Heaven Scatters Flowers, one of the six operas performed at Lincoln Center in New York for the 120th anniversary of Beijing opera master Mei Lanfang's birth. AMY HE / CHINA DAILY