The Rural Days of Ma Xiangyang
World premiere in August 2017
By the Qingdao Performing Arts Group
Composer: Zang Yunfei, Ren An
Libretto: Dai Lu, Lian Haiping
Conductor: Huang Yanjia
Director: Huang Dingshan
Set design: Jin Sa
Costume design: Han Chunqi
Light design: Liu Jianzhong, Tian Shengwen
Adapted from the popular eponymous TV series, this opera portrays the touching story of Ma Xiangyang, an assistant researcher at the Academy of Agricultural Sciences, who goes to the countryside to dedicate himself to poverty alleviation work.
Ma Xiangyang returns to his hometown of Dahuaishu village in a remote area of East China’s Shandong province, to support local poverty alleviation work. Full of affection for the village, Ma is determined to change the backwardness he finds there. However, the petty farmers' deep rooted ideology, clan forces, work problems and other troubles nearly destroy his dreams. Ma eventually resolves all the difficulties through his wisdom and sincerity and starts to lead the villagers along the path to wealth.
Full of the regional quirks of Shandong and the characteristics of the era, The Rural Days of Ma Xiangyang is a typical rural comic opera, which is reflected in its narrative method and musical images. The theater introduction is specially read in the dialect of Jiaodong (the eastern Shandong area where the story is set) and reminds every “villager” to watch the performance under the “big locust tree at the end of the village”. This immediately transports the audience into the story. The village's cowardly accountant and four gossipy women add a hefty dose of comedy with their lively arias highlighting regional dialects and local folk tunes.
The traditional Shandong performing art Lyuju Opera is widely referenced in the music of the play. Many of the cast are professional Lyuju Opera performers and they do a great job of combining it with national and operatic singing skills. Some humorous acting, typical of this style of traditional Chinese opera, is also added to add flavor to the depiction of rural life.
Traditional local instruments including erhu, zhuihu, bangzi and suona as well as a Shandong clapper ballad are harmoniously blended into the musical accompaniment, making a smooth contrast to the characters and the emotions of the roles.
The set design presents a strongly realistic style, with lifelike props including mountains, the stone road and the big locust tree. For the spatial performance of the village, a zigzag road is used as the main area with changes to the front and back scenes, creating a free and natural atmosphere. A cambered LED screen is also set to facilitate the changing scenery.