China's original opera productions

The Chinese Orphan

Updated: Feb 2, 2021 Print
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The Chinese Orphan

World premiere in June 2011
By the National Center for Performing Arts (NCPA)

Composer: Lei Lei
Libretto: Zou Jingzhi
Conductor: Lyu Jia
Director: Chen Xinyi
Set design: Gao Guangjian
Costume and make up design: Li Ruiding
Choir: NCPA Chorus
Orchestra: NCPA Orchestra

Cheng Ying (L) and Gongsun Chujiu in the opera The Chinese Orphan [Photos/]

Well known in Western countries and adapted to many performing arts, this great tragedy enjoys a high aesthetic reputation and highlights the Chinese traditional values of sacrifice and loyalty.

The story is set during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) of ancient China. Tu’an Gu, a treacherous court official, ensnares the righteous minister Zhao Dun and exterminates every member of his family. Princess Zhuangji, the daughter-in-law of Zhao Dun, implores doctor Cheng Ying to rescue her new born baby, then commits suicide.

Princess Zhuangji

Informed of this, Tu’an gives orders to kill all of the infants of the city. To save the innocent life, Cheng and the veteran minister Gongsun Chujiu decide to make great sacrifices – Cheng surrenders his own son to replace Zhao’s orphan and Gongsun dies while protecting them from Tu’an’s hunting.

After 18 years of waiting and suffering, Cheng finally finds the right time to tell the orphan the whole story then he kills Tu’an as revenge for his family. With blood, patience, endurance, loyalty and braveness, Cheng eventually fulfills his commitment.

The music of this work perfectly matches the rise and fall of its plot. In the first act, the plaintive aria of Zhuangji, filled with worries about her baby and herself, employs a large amount of promotional ostinato and a conjunct melody, creating a nervous and oppressive atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the theme song is composed in a distinct Chinese style – the Shang mode in B-flat accompanied by folk musical instruments which were rarely used before in operas, such as pipa and flute. Recitatives, on the other hand, are all processed skillfully to reflect the rhymes of the Chinese four tones and remain singable.

Han Jue

Ingeniously set, the stage of the opera consists of a raked platform and a model of a cottage with a well, resembling an idyllic ink-painted scroll that hints at an abstract aesthetic pursuit. Costumes and make-ups of the main roles are all designed to reflect their characters: white hair and long robes adorn the wise old man Gongsun Chujiu; black green is chosen for forbearing Cheng Ying; golden armor clad brave Han Jue who also sacrifices his life to protect the baby; and an elegant long pink dress with exquisite embroideries marks the presence of Zhuangji.

The opera has a simple but ingeniously set stage.


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