Cao Cao and Yang Xiu

Cao Cao and Yang Xiu
[Cao Cao yü Yang Xiu, 1988]
Xiqu (sung-drama/opera)
This ‘newly written historical play’ (xinbian lishiju) may be the most celebrated Jingju (Peking opera) created since the Cultural Revolution. Written by Chen Yaxian, it was revised and mounted in 1988 at the Shanghai Jingju Company (Shanghai jingjuyuan) by a team of artists led by director Ma Ke and the painted-face actor Shang Changrong. It entered the permanent repertory of the company and has been further revised several times, most extensively in 1995.
This play was created specifically for urban intellectual audiences, who fill theatres whenever and wherever it is performed. Both politically and philosophically daring, it is based on incidents in the historical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi tongsu yanyi). It concerns the relationship between the emperor Cao Cao and his brilliant minister Yang Xiu which, in the play, clearly parallels that of Mao Zedong and Peng Dehuai on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, as well as that of Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang just prior to 4 June 1989. The play concludes with a genuine and very moving heart-to-heart talk between Cao and Yang just before Cao has Yang beheaded.
The production is staged with strikingly imagistic scenery and original, historically based costumes. Its music incorporates contemporary material from outside the Jingju form and innovative instrumentation into eloquently applied Jingju traditions. Cao Cao and Tang Xiu won most major national awards given between 1988 and 1996, including the grand prize at the 1995 National Festival of Jingju Art, constituting official recognition as the finest Jingju created since the Cultural Revolution.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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