Hit show goes from TV to stage
New opera depicts poverty alleviation through song
Published: Feb 20, 2023 11:10 PM
Performers rehearse for the Chinese opera <em>Minning Town</em> at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing 
on February 20, 2023. Photo: Li Hao/Global Times

Performers rehearse for the Chinese opera Minning Town at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing on February 20, 2023. Photo: Li Hao/Global Times

It's hard to find a more touching story of China's poverty alleviation efforts than the one that took place at Minning town in the northwestern area of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. In recent years, this story was depicted in the wildly popular TV series, Minning Town, and now it will amaze and touch the hearts of audiences once again as a Chinese opera.

Composed by Meng Weidong, written by Yi Ming and directed by Wang Xiaodi, Minning Town will be staged at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) starting on March 8 by the Guiyang Symphony Orchestra, the NCPA chorus and singers like Wang Hongwei, Ma Xiaoming and Sa Lina under the baton of conductor Zhang Guoyong. 

The story unfolds amid Minning town's relocation from the countryside in the 1990s to a new location several hundred kilometers north so residents could live a better life. With support and help from experts from Fujian Province, a relatively wealthy province in East ­China, villagers established their own businesses and finally won the war against poverty led and guided by numerous local officials like Ma Defu.

"The greatness of Minning Town lies in highlighting the little people like Ma," opera singer Wang Hongwei, who plays Ma Defu in the opera, told the Global Times. "From him, a local grassroots official, we can see the qualities of our public servants who are simple, sincere and willing to devote themselves to the poverty alleviation campaign."

Opera and TV drama are two completely different forms of artistic expression. When shaping the role of Ma Defu, Wang Hongwei said that although he referred to and studied the TV series, "opera has its own expression and rules."

For composer Meng, the most important part of the Chinese opera is its Chinese style, as Minning Town returns to the basic traditions of Chinese Opera - singing followed by dialogue.

"Where does this come from? It comes from traditional Chinese operas. Be it Peking Opera, Pingju or other local operas, the form is always singing followed by dialogue, which has existed for hundreds of years. Chinese audiences are more used to this style when they come to the theater to watch operas," said Meng.

In the past few years, Chinese operas have developed rapidly, but how to keep producing high-quality works is still a problem. "High-quality operas are not created overnight. We need the high-quality spirit of a craftsman to complete artworks like Minning Town," said Wang Hongwei. 

Every era has its own form of expression. So what do we want to express in today's era? 

"We not only express history, but also express the spiritual pursuit of contemporary people. Singing for the era and for our people is a kind of responsibility. If we don't do it, no one will," he said.