Chinese variety show settles in the Summer Palace, building bridges between young people and traditional operas
Published: Nov 17, 2021 05:38 PM
One of performances in the show

One of performances in the show Photo: Courtesy of the production team

A new Chinese variety show gathering young Chinese entertainers such as Zhang Yixing, Song Yi and Zhang Yanqi and a group of Peking Opera and Kunqu Opera performers and filmed at the Summer Palace in Beijing is aiming to get young Chinese people to fall in love with traditional Chinese Operas, often considered the quintessence of Chinese culture.

The fourth episode of the variety show, Zuimei Zhongguoxi (lit: the most splendid Chinese operas), was released both on streaming platforms and traditional TV stations on Saturday. Various Chinese stars were invited to play a diverse range of Chinese Opera roles, including the male role known as sheng and the female role dan.

Peking Opera and Kunqu Opera, both listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List, are the two major types of traditional Chinese Opera. Kunqu Opera has also been listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2001.

Peng Xiaoliang, general director of the show, told the Global Times that they choose these opera schools because they can represent traditional Chinese opera culture and have had deep influence on international society since the 1930s when Chinese opera artists headed by Mei Lanfang brought Peking Opera to the world. 

Another highlight of the variety show is its film location - the Summer Palace. The show has been filmed in its entirety at a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) royal garden, even the night segments. The production team of the program noted that night scenes at the Summer Palace are a rare sight.

"The Summer Palace witnessed the development and glorious time of Chinese operas as a royal garden during the Qing Dynasty and two ancient theatrical stages at the garden were the main performing sites at that time. The garden was selected as a filming location because ancient gardens are also part of Chinese culture, just like operas," show runner Yan Xue told the Global Times.

To attract more young people, the production team has made many creative choices to include elements popular among today's youth. 

Yan said that they have invited many well-known stars for the show. Zhang Yixing, a singer and actor who is also a member of the South Korean boy band EXO, actually studied Peking Opera for a while when he was young, so he displayed these skills during the show, while singer Zhang Yanqi, who knew next to nothing about Chinese Opera, was able to bring a fresh feeling to audiences.

Besides professional opera artists, the stars also performed classic scenes from Chinese operas, including the love story between Du Liniang and Liu Mengmei, on the show. 

Previous opera programs have mostly focused on the content of the operas, while this program seeks to express the extension of operas and the Chinese culture behind them and explore the integration of traditional operas and contemporary art forms, Yan noted.

"We want to become a stepping stone through operas for young people and overseas friends, allowing them to better understand China's splendid opera culture," the director said.