Some 30 years ago I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview members of the Peking Opera when they came to Los Angeles. With translator in tow, I talked to heavily masked and costumed performers, who were singers, actors and incredible acrobats all rolled into one, and who basically found Western opera to be, well, amusing. "I tried so hard to keep from laughing at my first Western opera," recalled my translator, Mr. Wang. "In Peking Opera there is so much action — acrobatics, sword play, constant movement. But here were these two fat singers, standing still and bellowing!" Well, times have changed. Today, China's younger audiences are demanding Western opera and China is adapting accordingly. This week, the Chinese National Opera presents the first-ever Western remake of a classic Beijing opera, Farewell My Concubine (not to be confused with the 1993 movie). The story of love and warfare in ancient China took over 18 years to adapt into an Italian-style opera and was full of challenges, such as integrating a 400-year-old European art form into a 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition and adapting tonal Mandarin ("which involves lots of changes on lips, teeth and tongue," says composer Xiao Bai) into the lyrical language of Italian opera. The result is pretty amazing, but will it mean Farewell, Peking Opera?
Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena; Sat., Jan. 19, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 20, 2 p.m. Call (213) 365-3500 or go to www.farewellmyconcubineusa.com for tickets & prices.