Ya Yin Builds Brand Name

Taking Pains For a Good Show

From 1979 (68th Year of the Republic) when Ya Yin was founded to 1997 (86th Year of the Republic), during these 18 years, besides reruns of old operas such as "Wang Kuei Jilting Kuei Ying", "Capturing San Lang Alive", "Examining Jade Bracelet", "Eighth Sister Yang", "Hua Mu-lan". "Longing for Mortal World and Coming Down From the Mountain", "Matchmaker Red Lady", "Unicorn Locking Pouch", "Third Sister You", "Hsiang Yu's Farewell With Concubine Yu", etc., Ya Yin also presented 11 new operas. Of these, "Tou O" and "Fated for Another Life" had been staged and rerun in different years.

Of these 11 new operas by Ya Yin, every one showed some innovation and every one was a good show. They had established a reputation for Ya Yin, making it a prestigious brand name in Chinese opera. And Kuo Hsiao-chuang was obviously the spokesperson for this brand name.

From "White Snake and Hsu Hsien" which Ya Yin staged in the beginning, to "Tou O", "Liang Shan-po and Chu Ying-tai" and "Madam Han", these had all the time been very popular with the audience in general. Ya Yin established good reviews by word of mouth, and became a guarantee for good shows and for the box office too. The main reason was Ya Yin productions were rigorous, serious, professional and full of innovative reforms, showing an artistic ardor.

Ya Yin's new operas staged after 1985 (74th Year of the Republic) would be described in respect of their creative characteristics here, to leave a complete record for Ya Yin.

Liu Lan-chih and Chiao Chung-ching

This was the 5th opera of Ya Yin Ensemble, first staged from August 1 to 3, 1985 in Taipei. Later rerun in Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung, etc.

It was an adaptation based on the long yueh fu poem of East Han Dynasty. The original poem was tragic and moving, being the earliest narrative long poem of China with 357 lines and a total of 1785 characters. The whole poem was in the vernacular (pai hua) with deep meaning, a musical sound in reading aloud and full of emotions:

Peacocks fly to the southeast,
Lingering every five lis,
Hesitant and looking back,
Going, going and turning into a sad mood.
Today I am parting with you.
When will we meet again in future ¡V whom shall I ask?
We swear by the rock and the willow
To be together for the whole life.

This most touching old poem of "Peacocks fly to the southeast" was scored as the prelude to "Liu Lan-chih and Chiao Chung-ching". The song was sung from backstage with great melancholy that affected people's emotions. From the very start, the audience were brought into the plot.

The musical design by Liu Sung-hui and Tung Jung-sen was the most unique in the whole show. Here they boldly made use of folk song tunes to give a new meaning to Chinese opera, and assigned the original lines of the narrative poem to ensemble or solo singing, to match the progress of the play. The rich music melodies made people subtly feel the grandeur of grand opera, and at the same time played out the ancient simplicity of medieval Han yueh fu poetry.

With the assistance of celebrated artist Chiang Chao-shen, and having acquired a rubbing of the Yellow Dragon Picture of East Han period, this was made into the backdrop for the final scene of Lan-chih and Chung-ching dying in sacrifice for love and turning into interlocking branches. With Nieh Kuang-yen making it into a slide, it was projected on the backdrop at the dying scene, and a tombstone was made under the interlocking branches, creating a most tragic image of sad romance. The atmosphere emitted a light wave of sorrow. The whole opera's performance was meticulous. For a scene of drawing water in the snow, Kuo Hsiao-chuang made a special trip to Deer Port's ancient water well, to practice real water drawing movements, and experience thoroughly the feeling of drawing and carrying water in ancient times. Hence her performance was realistic and moving.

This was a classical tragedy given reappearance by Ya Yin. Besides the sighs and tears, there were also fun and laughter.

Fated for Another Life

This was a new script based on the folk tale "Meng Li-chun". It was first staged from July 3, 1986 (75th Year of the Republic) for 4 consecutive days in the Sun Yet-sen Memorial Hall. Then it was rerun in 1994 (83rd Year of the Republic) and was still very popular.

The original "Fated for Another Life" was a story of a strong willed girl written by a female author Chen Tuan-sheng of the Ching Dynasty, who made use of her own experiences. Then it was continued by Liang Te-chun into a happy ending, and edited into a definitive version by Madam Hou Hsiang-yeh, making the plot more complicated and touching. The play was also adapted for performing in many regional operas.

This time Ya Yin specially invited Professor Wang An-chi to write the script. The two thus started a long term collaboration and became good friends. Wang An-chi added literary character to the script, and with a woman's delicate writing, enhanced the mental depiction of Meng Li-chun. In the course of script writing, the two of them had time and again discussed the character molding of Meng Li-chun, the original female looks, experiences and method of acting, and the different identity and method of acting when disguised as a male. After the script was finalized, Kuo Hsiao-chuang again did research into the part. She grasped the role's change into male attire, from the refined physician, to imposing general, to handsome prime minister, and to panicky courtier, she acted appropriately light and delightful, harmonious and lively. From script to acting, she successfully presented the interest of a romantic comedy.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang had many times acted as a male: Chou Yu in "Gathering of Talents", and Chu Ying-tai in "Liang Shan-po and Chu Ying-tai", but without much variation in the characters. This time, in the role of Meng Li-chun, the male part's identity kept changing, as did the circumstances surrounding her. She had to face the whole Court of civil and military officials, to persist in her love and match with Huang-fu Shao-hua, and in the tour of the palace had to face the Emperor's flirting and ward it off. Her acting faced great challenge. Seen from the tale of Meng Li-chun it was simple. But seen from the legendary nature of Meng Li-chun's character, it was rich and ever changing. Kuo Hsiao-chuang had to face a new trial. So she made it a point to consult Professor Chia Yun-chao, male lead disciple of the school of Chiang Miao-hsiang, to practice the proper degree of singing, speaking and gestures. After study and industrious practice, she could make the male movements more lively. When she performed, her costume and make-up under the effect of lighting looked especially elegant and refined, winning endless praise from the full house.

For Fated for Another Life, Wang Yung-hung the famous architect was also appointed set designer. Wang Yung-hung's specialty in architectural design was combining Western style with Chinese tradition. This concept was exactly the direction that Ya Yin needed. When designing the set for this play, he tried to use a large quantity of cloth to make various combinations, giving a visual effect of texture feeling, color contrast and variation, and also with an atmosphere of classical grandeur. Ya Yin had thus completed another new experiment.

Ah-Kai Princess

This opera was a new breakthrough for Ya Yin. From the subject matter angle, it had expanded from love between the sexes and family relations to national feelings. Because the compass of the play had to be expanded and enhanced, 2 whole years were used to complete the preparation work. From the box office angle, it was staged for 7 days in a row from May 7, 1988 (77th Year of the Republic) onward at the Taipei Social Education Hall. This broke the record of the number of days a single Chinese opera title could play in Taiwan. In those days, there was the unwritten rule for the theater and the army troupes that Chinese opera could run only for 3 days. And there were constant debates on whether it should be one opera staged for 3 days or staging 3 different operas.Ya Yin's annual performance was increased from 3 to 4 days. This time it was full house on all 7 days, and even tickets for standing room were sold on the last 2 days. This was indeed unprecedented and an indication of its popularity.

"Ah-Kai Princess" was a story recorded in history. It told how Prince Liang of Yuan Dynasty was besieged by Ming troops in Yunnan and was rescued by Tuan Kung. Prince Liang therefore offered his beloved daughter Princess A-kai to him as bride, and let Tuan Kung command the troops of Tali as garrison in Kunming. This led to jealousy and suspicion of the Mongol Court. Rumors were spread and racial feelings were used for divisiveness. Prince Liang then gave the deadly poison, peacock gall bladder, to Princess A-kai, ordering her to poison Tuan Kung when he came home. He also stationed General Shih Lieh's troops in ambush at the Tung Chi Bridge to attack and kill Tuan Kung when he passed by. The tragedy struck and the Princess was not in time to save him. After persuading the racial factions to cease their strife, she resolved to take the peacock gall bladder to sacrifice for love. The historical story of loyalty and patriotism was most moving.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang invited Wang An-chi for another collaboration. In the conflict of family relations and racial strife, the intrigues of political conspiracy and the sincerity of love in turbulent times were highlighted. Dramatic effect was strong and every scene plucked on people's heart strings. The whole opera proceeded from comedy to tragedy. At the opening, famed actor Sun Yuan-po read out the solo prologue in stentorian voice: "The Great River runs east in great waves. Prosperity dies easily and emptiness remains at a wink. Only the integrity of the hero cannot be washed away. True human love can stand the test of time." It was a grand opening, leading on to the palace banquet. Kuo Hsiao-chuang gave a show of the Mongolian Golden Ring Dance, choreographed by dance expert Wu Su-chun. Thus the drama started in great waves, with such strong dramatic force that was most stunning and electrifying.

This time, Tsao Fu-yung played Tuan Kung, an important part, and made a great performance. Chu Lu-hao played Shih Lieh's part, the first time a martial actor played a leading role. And Kuo Hsiao-chuang's Princess A-kai led through the whole play with a brilliant performance that really shone, fully showing the effect of overall team work.

Set design was by young designer Li Hsien-hui. He had modern theater design training in the USA, and had participated in set productions in Broadway musicals. After several chats with him, Kuo Hsiao-chuang earnestly invited him to help with stage work for this play. This time he used the principle of "Chinese learning as main body, Western learning for application", to conceptualize this show which had strong ethnic style. He used a colorful picture of a whole peacock as the curtain design, and used drawing techniques to form the scenes in a new attempt.

Tragedy of the Red Silk

Ya Yin brought Chinese opera into the National Theater for the first time, and made use of the revolving stage in the National Theater, enabling the audience to see the changes of scenes in great variety: a major reform to the traditional two-dimensional and monotonous set of Chinese opera.

"Tragedy of the Red Silk" was staged to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Ya Yin's founding. It was performed from July 20 to 24 for 5 days in 1989 (78th Year of the Republic). All tickets were sold out 10 days in advance, evidencing great popularity. The actors were already filled with excitement, anxiety and a sense of glory even before the performance.

After "Ah-Kai Princess" which advocated national sentiments, Kuo Hsiao-chuang once again picked a subject matter advocating a spirit of patriotism. Princess Chang Ping in "Tragedy of the Red Silk" was the beloved daughter of Chung Chen, the last Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. When the rebel Li Chih-chen stormed and entered Peking, Chung Chen hanged himself. The Princess escaped in a hurry and was separated from her betrothed. After meeting again they were taken by the Manchu troops. She was awe inspiring in her patriotism with no fear of death. At the imperial court, she scolded courtiers who had surrendered, then committed suicide together with her husband in loyalty to the fallen Dynasty. Wang An-chi the playwright based her script on the traditional opera "Flower of the Emperor's Daughter" and gave it the poetic feel of an epic.This poetic feel seeped directly into Princess Chang Ping's heart, and Kuo Hsiao-chuang's heart.

For this show, Ya Yin¡¦s main aim was to show the stage. Li Hsien-hui was again appointed to be in charge. He had great ideas about modern stage design, and the revolving stage of the National Theater became a new garden for his creative activities. He designed sets for 5 scenes, using the revolving stage for change of sets, which was swift, simple and time-saving. It gave the same effect of quick rhythm as a scene change in a movie. This was a first time for Ya Yin as well as for Chinese opera. When the stage was moving, characters could walk about together with the turning of the stage space, from the back garden to the palace hall, from the nunnery to the country mansion. The arrangements were skillful, the effects lively. It served the function of widening visual enjoyment continuously.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang played a demanding role in this opera. Her singing voice was high-pitched and energetic. In one scene, she had to continuously sing with one breath over 40 lines in quick tempo. The degree of difficulty was high and the expression very strong. Playing the role of Princess Chang Ping, whose country was defeated, whose family perished and whose husband was separated, keeping alive had no meaning for her. What she wanted to express was the sense of value that "while the country capitulated, the mountains and rivers stay". When she was reunited with her husband, there was no joy in her heart, just grief. She sang in sadness, "I think of you daily without seeing you. Now I see you and I blame Heaven for playing tricks on us!" Finally she sang again, "Now we meet, what then? What then?" She sang it with great sorrow, experiencing the helplessness with nowhere to turn to of this role in this situation. Tragic fate destined the couple to meet again only to die for their country together. Kuo Hsiao-chuang had delved deeply into the role and grasped the motivation for creation. Upon her death she still showed her upright patriotism, not degrading the grace of a princess of the former dynasty. Amid the contrasting voices of other parts, she acted the theme with humanity, with righteous rage, and with tragic love which moved people.

Ask Heaven

From December 12 to 16, 1990 (79th Year of the Republic), Ya Yin staged its annual big show "Questioning Heaven" at Taipei's Social Education Hall. This was a new adaptation of the South Fukien opera "The Chaste Woman's Chant". Obviously Ya Yin was paving a new way again. Having staged time and again grand scale shows of serious themes like "Ah-Kai Princess" and "Tragedy of the Red Silk", this year it launched this refined, humane, simple creation, with emphasis on describing the characters' inner feelings. This gave a different look with another new style.

Since this opera was a "simple creation", on a small scale with a simple cast, how to achieve a warm and dramatic treatment on a vast stage was the first question Kuo Hsiao-chuang had to tackle. So she invited the artist Teng Kun-yen to be the set designer. His creative ideas were innovative and at the same time practical. After discussion between the two, it was decided to have a double deck set on stage, i.e. erecting a mini field stage at stage center. Kuo Hsiao-chuang even made a special trip to the countryside of Hsin Pu to inspect mini field stages, and mounted the stage to walk about and made a few movements. She felt that the effect was very good.

And so, Teng Kun-yen brought the concept of making use of multi-storey stage space to Ya Yin. The acting area of the cast focused at center stage, and now there was another deck of a mini stage at center stage. The cast could perform at upper or lower deck. It looked very flexible, and avoided a feeling of desolation due to a large stage with a small set. Using lighting to separate the zones made people see more clearly visually. The advantage was highlighted. The brilliant design of the stage became the most eye-catching characteristic this time.

"Ask Heaven" told about Madam Yen the female lead, a young widow raising her orphan on her own. She was devoted to the aim of educating her son to grow up and be a useful man, so as to fulfill her dead husband¡¦s last wish. For 10 years she had been used to facing the lonely lamp all alone, and had never felt sentimental about spring blossoms or autumn moon. Life had become unchanging, with her son being her whole life, until the handsome tutor came. All of a sudden her heart was roused and wild ideas were generated. The inner world of love and lust of this woman was the main point the whole play, and the essence of the heart of the matter. Through Chinese opera singing, expressions and movements as media for communication, between imageries and body language, the inner acting of the characters seemed rich and grandiose, as well as charming and attractive to the tens of thousands in the audience.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang could feel the mental path of Madam Yen, bearing in mind the courage and preciousness of the modern woman, traditional feudal ethics in an ancient period was restricting a woman¡¦s humanity. Seen from the bounds of ethics, Yen¡¦s welling desires were not "aesthetic", but seen from a human nature angle, the inner needs of a young widow was "pure and true". Kuo Hsiao-chuang was using this reality of human life that showed true love and human nature to analyze Yen¡¦s psychology, and reflected and acted it, with delicacy, tenderness, subtlety and a shade of a sigh. In particular the dramatic climax of the night visit, from her bedroom to the study, the distance was so short, but seemed to be as far away as the edge of the sky. Usually walking at a brisk and light pace, this night her tread was heavy pace by pace. Even though her lustful desires were highly aroused, she was also torn by conflicting and disconcerting thoughts, Kuo Hsiao-chuang expressed the entanglement and conflict between the desires and morals of the character. Her singing was extremely high quality with rich feelings, sometimes light hearted, displaying the romantic mood, and sometimes frightened, evidencing the cannibalistic feudal ethics. This was a brilliant and lively performance.

Stopping for the Night on a Riverside

Ya Yin¡¦s annual production for 1991 (80th Year of the Republic) was adapted from the Yuan Dynasty poetic drama "The River Post". Wang An-ch'i new full length "Autumn Night Rain on Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers" concentrated on family drama from the father and daughter separation to chance meeting again. It was staged from August 7 to 11 at the National Theater. There was still the "Ya Yin the Good Brand Name" effect and all 5 days' tickets were sold out a week before opening, a sensation even before the show. Kuo Hsiao-chuang felt very pleased with a smile in her heart.

This time the set design task was boldly entrusted to a group of new designers just graduating from art academy. They formed a stage production group led by young designer Liu Pei-neng. They very much treasured this opportunity and racked their brains for innovation. In the prologue they showed a disaster at sea of people falling overboard. Amid sounds of raging sea waves, the large group of martial characters on stage held long white strips and kept waving and rotating them to give the effect of white-capped sea waves. The boat was seen to sink, with the people falling overboard. The father and daughter were separated among the sea waves. The actors¡¦ movements, music, lighting and the use of the elevated stage all working together produced an extraordinary grandness. The design of the new vanguard group gave Ya Yin an imposing start.

"River Post" might be an old subject, but after the collective brainstorming of Ya Yin, the collaborative creation of scriptwriter Wang An-chi, director Kuo Hsiao-chuang and score arranger Li Kuang-po had given it a new lease of life and a totally new interpretation. Li Kuang-po was a famous Chinese opera veteran from Mainland China. His score arrangements had always been a cut above the common and full of innovations while melodious at the same time. The characters' emotions were most appropriately and skillfully described, the singing and the lyrics matched perfectly. The various body movements designed by Kuo Hsiao-chuang, in harmony with the newly arranged singing score, together formed an "aesthetic" entity of performance. It was visually and aurally attractive and effective.

The climax was the "Running in the Rain" scene. Li Kuang-po used the singing of the old male character and the painted face to strengthen description of the female lead's inner sorrow and indignation. This went with Kuo Hsiao-chuang's movements combining kneeling paces and falling on one's face. Then all this was coupled with the rain scene production, use of lighting and music effects, to give an atmosphere of desolation which was pathetic and touching. In this scene, Kuo Hsiao-chuang (the daughter) and Wu Chien-hung (the father) were falling and crawling, rolling and tumbling, performing brilliantly. This was an excellent show that won everybody's praise.

The new group of stage production also put up a good show. In a scene showing separately the inside and outside of the river post, the old father inside the post was thinking of his lost daughter. Outside the post the daughter was weeping in sorrow. At this point, the director arranged for the father and daughter inside and outside the post respectively to move the plot with alternating round and duet singing. Kuo Hsiao-chuang treated the emotions of this scene most movingly to the full, and showed very innovative ideas.

Ya Yin had to innovate ceaselessly and improve ceaselessly. The brand name of Ya Yin was a guarantee for completeness and perfection.