When Zheng Yuanhe, the son of a high official, meets Li Yaxian, a courtesan famous for her singing skills, it is love at first sight. But trouble ensues when Zheng visits Li at Yichun Pavilion, the house where she works, and is tricked out of his money by the house madam. Disgraced and rejected by his family, Zheng is forced to give up his studies and live on the streets. Taking pity on Zheng, Li encourages her sick and impoverished lover to continue his education. When he refuses, and says that he is so bewitched by her eyes that he cannot bear to leave her, she blinds herself to force him to go. Knowing that he must now work for both their futures, Zheng leaves to study for an imperial position. After achieving success, he is ready to return, but faced with fierce opposition from his heartless father, Zheng is forced to abandon his former love …
Scene One: “Loving Glances”
Scene Two: “Parting”
Scene Three: “Sad Songs”
Scene Four: “Blinded”
Scene Five: “Memories”
“Yue Yang Drinks the Soup” from The Conquest of Zhongshan (Gaoqiang)
During the warring states period (471–221 BCE), the lord of Zhongshan attacks the state of Wei. To counter the attack, Wei general Yue Yang is sent to fight off the enemy troops. At that time, Yue Yang’s son, Yue Shu, was working as an official in the state of Zhongshan. Seeking to exploit Yue Yang’s love for his son and shake his resolve, the lord of Zhongshan kills Yue Shu, makes a soup from his flesh, and has it delivered to Yue Yang. Enraged, Yue Yang drinks the soup and defeats Zhongshan in one fell swoop. This excerpt makes use of the traditional techniques of bian lian (face changing), in which actors use sleight of hand to switch rapidly between different masks, and bian xu (beard changing) to express Yue Yang’s grief and indignation. Both skills are part of the traditional Sichuan opera training for xu sheng (bearded males) in martial roles.
“Fleeing by Night” from Xiao Fang the Ferocious Tiger (Gaoqiang)
After stealing riches from the Emperor, Wang Shiba, a river-bandit known as “Xiao Fang the Ferocious Tiger” casts his eyes on the beautiful Lady Geng. Ignoring the pleas of his wife Zhang Cuiniang, Xiao Fang kills Lady Geng’s husband and throws Cuiniang into a river for trying to dissuade him. When Lady Geng attempts to hang herself, she is rescued by Prince Changping, who has been leading troops to combat rebels in the area. As Prince Changping closes in on Xiao Fang, the bandit has no choice but to escape during the night. This excerpt makes use of extensive dialogue to depict the desperate, meandering inner thoughts of the bandit Xiao Fang and showcases the recitation skills of the wu sheng (martial male) role type.
“To be a Happy Family” from The Jealous First Wife (Gaoqiang)
During the Southern Qi dynasty (479–502 CE), Xiao Yan returns triumphantly from an expedition to Northern Wei with two concubines, Jin and Miao. Finding that his wife is unwilling to tolerate the concubines, Xiao asks his mother, his elder brother and sister-in-law to help persuade her. When their efforts fail, Xiao tries to appease his wife’s jealousy with apologies and sweet words. This excerpt showcases the acting and singing skills of the huadan (young female) role type.
“Jinshan Temple” from The Legend of the White Snake (Kunqiang)
When the powerful monk Fa Hai learns of the marriage between scholar Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen (Lady White Snake), he detains Xu Xian at Jinshan Temple, informing him that his wife and her friend Xiao Qing are both magical snakes in human form and that his life is in danger. Soon Bai Suzhen and Xiao Qing arrive at the temple to ask for Xu’s release. When Fa Hai refuses, Bai uses her powers to flood the temple and a battle ensues. In a technique unique to Sichuan opera, this excerpt uses a male actor in the role of Lady White Snake’s friend Xiao Qing, allowing the character to hold Bai Suzhen in the air and perform a variety of movements that exhibit both characters’ martial skills and snake-like forms. The excerpt also features other traditional Sichuan opera techniques, such as bian lian (face changing), in which the actor deftly changes masks at rapid pace, ti huiyan (kicking the all-seeing eye), where the actor kicks up his foot to place a third eye concealed on his toe onto his forehead.