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Mei Lanfang - a Peking opera legend
Latest Updated by 2003-06-24 11:09:40

Any introduction to Peking Opera would be incomplete without mentioning female impersonator, Mei Lanfang. Traditionally only men performed in Peking Opera, including the female roles. And Mei Lanfang was the very best master of the miss. During his stage life, he embellished the traditions of the past with his own creations, shaping a style of his own and giving birth to "The Mei Lanfang School". He was also the first artist to introduce Peking Opera to an overseas audience, winning international recognition across the globe.

For half a century, Mei Lanfang was a household name in China. Right up until the time of his death, he managed to preserve the splendor of his art, playing roles with the same vitality he did as a young man.

Mei Lanfang himself admitted that he was never a student of great natural talent. He just strived his whole life to achieve artistic perfection through practice.

Mei Lanfang began his career at the age of eight. His teacher said he showed little promise because of his lack-luster eyes. To remedy this, he exercised them relentlessly.

He would practice gazing at the movements of an incense flame in a dark room; fly kites and stare at them drifting in a blue sky; keep pigeons in order to look at them soaring higher and higher until they disappeared into the clouds. Thanks to his efforts, he managed to transform his dull peepers into a pair of bright, keen, highly expressive eyes and win national fame before the age of 20.

Singing, dancing, and acting are the three main components of the traditional Chinese opera. Mei Lanfang became highly accomplished at all of them. He turned himself into a performer of almost all types of the "Dan" female roles and thoroughly broke the rigid distinction between Qingyi, the dignified, graceful female, and the vivacious young female "Huadan".

Singing, dancing, and acting are the three main components of the traditional Chinese opera. Mei Lanfang became highly accomplished at all of them. He turned himself into a performer of almost all types of the "Dan" female roles and thoroughly broke the rigid distinction between Qingyi, the dignified, graceful female, and the vivacious young female "Huadan".

The Qingyi usually walks in a sedate fashion, with one hand on her stomach and the other hanging at one side. Such a character was only asked to sing well, while the Huadan were supposed to have lively facial expressions and gestures.

Mei Lanfang, who was adept at both, combined the two, redefining female roles. After many years of effort he enabled the Dan to occupy a very important place in Peking Opera, with a clear-cut form for new comers to follow and develop.


In over 50 years on the stage, Mei Lanfang played no less than 100 different characters in the traditional Peking Opera repertoire. He revolutionized both stage make-up and costumes, systemized and enriched characters' gestures, expressions and poses. He also wrote many new plays, designing the choreography himself. The many dances he created form part of the great legacy that he left to Peking Opera.

 


In 1930, Mei Lanfang embarked on a successful US tour. There his exotic but exquisite performances fascinated both public and academic circles, making them realize that Peking Opera was a theatrical form of great literary and artistic value.

American art critics hailed him, commenting that east is east, west is west, but the twins, which had never met before were perfectly combined in Mei Lanfang's performance. Five years later, Mei Lanfang had another stage success in the former Soviet Union, where he won the praise of such dramatic heavyweights as Stanislavsky and Meyerhold.

Age was never a barrier for Mei Lanfang. Even in his 60s he could still summon the strength to play a female warrior. In 1959, just two years before his death from heart problems, he added one last piece to his already full repertoire, "Mu Guiying Takes Command". But his most enduring legacy was his son and disciple Mei Baojiu, who reinterpreted his father's roles and ensured the Mei Lanfang School would thrive for another generation.

Editor: Wing

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By: Source:CCTV
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