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China’s Princess Turandot


The offer to interview the principals from the cast of China’s Princess Turandot was one worth taking up, particularly because there'd be the presence of an interpreter. In my mind’s ear I heard those Foreign Correspondent or BBC World Service stories where the soundbite begins in another language, but fades as the translation begins over the top. Here’s what the finished interview (as an MP3 file) sounds like, as lifted from the ABC NewsRadio Music News broadcast. Initially, I was chatting to Mr Sun Yong Bo, Ms Liu Pin and Ms Zhu Qin, who sat before me in the classic ‘v’ formation in that order, so that Ms Liu Pin was the centre of attention. Although I directed some questions to Mr Sun Yong Bo and Ms Zhu Qin, the fact is that a more direct story is told by editing together just the ones directed at Ms Liu Pin. I was startled to learn that ‘martial arts’ is one of the four artforms that comprise this production, and am looking forward to seeing it for myself!

Demetrius Romeo: How does China’s Princess Turandot differ from Puccini’s opera Turandot?

Ms LIU PING: The difference between China’s Princess Turandot and Puccini’s Turandot is that we add a new character which is Handmaid Liu Er who is quite important and she reveals a simple but very strong fact, that love conquers all, and in China’s Princess Turandot we want to show people what the beauty is, what the kindness is, and what the truth is. We use the character Handmaid Liu Er to reveal all these things. So there is a big difference.

Demetrius Romeo: Musically, does it differ at all?

Ms LIU PING: China’s Princess Turandot combines the music factors in one – that is, the traditional opera, and also the traditional Chinese folk songs like ‘Jasmine Flower’ – and most importantly we put Sichuan Opera as the main musical factor in this performance.

Demetrius Romeo: When composers – Western composers – used to write their operas and set them in places like China, and Japan – I’m thinking of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado as well – they were often choosing places for their exotic remoteness from where they were. [1] How do you capture the difference, the exotic nature? Does it come into it? If it doesn’t, is it just a matter of dealing with the universal themes that everyone understands: the love, the truth, the beauty.

Ms LIU PING: Basically, this is a combination of the Orient and Occidental scenes, so actually, we want to capture the answers, like you said; we want to reveal what the true beauty and the true love, and also the truth is. Mostly we’re taking some other kind of patterns to reveal this, mainly by means of Chinese traditional drama, especially Sichuan opera.

Also, this is a story re-created by the Chinese, so we add some characters and we add some other plots. So our purpose is not to create the Western opera one hundred percent; this is not our ultimate purpose. Our purpose is to pull them together and to reveal a common sense.

Demetrius Romeo: LP, is this a lead role that you’ve aspired to, that you’ve always wanted to play, or have you always had similar roles as the beautiful princess?

Ms LIU PING: Yes, actually, this is quite a new role because it is quite a challenging one. Also, by playing this sort of new character, I have to perform and I have to reveal all of the five talents of Sechuan Opera. That is, the singing, the dialogue, the dancing and the martial arts. So it’s a complicated role. It’s quite challenging, but I love it.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you think that Quentin Tarantino might snatch you up for his next Hollywood blockbuster, having to achieve all of that in one performance?

Ms LIU PING: Yeah, actually, we hope so. We know that Quentin Tarantino tried to absorb a lot of things, like Hong Kong legend. But actually, Chinese drama is quite colourful and quite versatile. I do think he could absorb a lot of things from it.

Demetrius Romeo: If there was only one reason why someone had to come and see this show, in your mind, what is that one reason?

Ms LIU PING: The biggest selling point is the unique features of the Sichuan Opera. We have various kind of singing styles, we also have dialogue and martial arts in this Sichuan opera. So this the strongest selling-point to the Australian people.

1. That, at least was Beyond the Fringe satirist, occasional brain surgeon and performance director Sir Jonathan Miller’s justification of chosing the British seaside of the 1920s as the stylistic underpinning for the ‘look’ of his production of The Mikado. His is the one that featured Eric Idle in the role of Ko-ko. Which is why I bring up a production supposedly set in Japan; I wasn’t merely lumping all the productions set in the Orient together. Purists of course are incensed that anyone would dare deliver Gilbert & Sullivan with any variation to, say the D’Oyly Carte version, as if the work is some sort of sacred doctrine from which there must be no variation (on pain of finding it interesting, I suppose). But then it’s worth pointing out that the full title of this musical by William Schwenk Gilbert and Arthur Seymour Sullivan is in fact The Mikado or: The Town of Titipu. That’s like some Aussie, circa 1964, writing a musical set in Italy called The Generalissimo or: The Town of Poobumweebum.

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