The Ya-Yin Ensemble
【Seattle PI/Douglas McLennan】

The Ya-Yin Ensemble from Taiwan is making its American debut with a short four-concert tour of the West Coast. Friday night the opera company presented the “Ah-Kai Princess” in the Paramount Theater.

To remain vital, art must evolve its traditions, and so Ya-Yin, founded in 1979, claims for itself the heritage of traditional Chinese opera updated to the tastes of modern audiences.

This includes a crude attempt at supertitles (the libretto was projected on small screens to the side of the stage), shortening (old style Chinese opera sometimes continued for two days – this “Princess” easily fit into an evening) and modern lighting.

As in Western opera plots are simplistic, but unlike in the West, the music does not define the experience.

The “Ah-Kai Princess” is a prosaic work and much of the performance is spoken in sing-songy dialogue, punched with exaggerated accents and zooming glissandi.

Acrobatics also play a role, and the opera is played out in rich symbolic costumes in front of colorfully painted screens.

The 33 actors were accompanied by 22 musicians, who wove in and out of the stage action. Music is usually present here, but often dwells at a subliminal level, reinforcing action on the stage.

Playing the title role was Kuo Hsiao-Chuang, who is also the company’s director and founder. Kuo is an attractive actress whose affecting characterization was a good foil for Ts’ao Fu-Yung as Tuan Kung, her beleaguered husband.

The troupe is a polished group of performers that glided through the evening with charm and style, delighting the large audience that filled out the hall.