On Friday, October 26th, Mount Holyoke’s Rooke Theatre hosted a performance of Chinese Yue Opera scenes, featuring award-winning actors Jun’an Wang and Qi Tao. Wang and Tao, both of whom flew in from China specially for this event, performed three scenes from the classic operas Liu Yi Delivers a Letter for the Dragon King’s Daughter and Searching for and Probing the Wife, featuring full costume, makeup, and choreography. Professor Ying Wang’s ASIAN-215 class, “Androgyny and Gender Negotiation in Contemporary Chinese Woman’s Theater,” also assisted in planning and putting on the event. Students from the course worked as translators, stage crew, and presenters, providing the audience with cultural, literary, and historical contexts for each of the three excerpts.
Yue Opera, the second most popular opera genre in China today, originated in the early 20th century and is notable for its all-female casting. Actresses are trained, typically from a very young age, to perform one of a variety of specialized role types, which are distinguished by the gender, age, class, and mannerisms of the character. Of the two performers visiting Mount Holyoke, Jun’an Wang specializes in young male lead roles, while Qi Tao is trained as a female lead. Both Wang and Tao participated in a panel on Wednesday the 24th, during which they answered a series of questions posed by Mount Holyoke students. Over the course of the session, the actresses emphasized the hard work, dedication, and passion necessary to succeed as a Yue Opera performer. Wang also mentioned her joy in seeing younger generations’ interest in this century-old genre of performance. At the same time, though, both actresses expressed their worry for the future of Yue Opera, since fewer and fewer young Chinese women are choosing to undergo the rigorous training necessary to become a Yue performer.
Regardless of the future of this genre, it was successfully received at Mount Holyoke. Rooke Theatre was nearly sold out with students, faculty, and the general public, including numerous students in the Asian Studies, Theatre Arts, and Gender Studies departments. As an elaborate art form, a slice of cultural history, and a challenge to heteronormative and “gender-straight” Western theatre, Yue Opera holds a powerful allure for students in all areas of study.
After the show concluded, some attendees were interviewed about this very unique opportunity on the Mount Holyoke Campus. There were many people clamouring to get on stage to take a photo with the talented Opera Artists, but Sally Sutherland, the theater Department chair was hanging back, content to take photos of the general excitement surrounding the event. Sally was thrilled that the opera event had gone off so well, despite the most minor of technical difficulties. “I’d never seen Yue Opera before.” She said. “I had no idea what to expect going in, but it was so interesting! It’s made me far more interested in Yue Opera than I ever was before-I’d go again in a heartbeat.” Many of the students from the class that helped to host the Opera enjoyed participating in it and watching it from the sidelines. It was also certain to be a fantastic learning experience for students to not only get to watch recorded operas, but to see one in real life before them. One student, Katie Simpson said “It was a huge privilege to have them here first hand, and that might be the only time I’ll ever have an opportunity like that. It was just… excellent. Just really excellent.” The event was a success for students, faculty, and general attendees alike, and a fantastic opportunity for all those involved in seeing it or making it happen.