于萬增——發現「新大陸」

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1993 / 7月

文‧蔡文婷 圖‧薛繼光


在大陸因為沒戲唱,許多跑龍套、唱宮女的京劇演員,穿著戲服,在觀光飯店走來走去,成了「下酒菜」。即使像于萬增這樣一級演員。也曾有半年上不了一場戲的尷尬。

「你在台灣有戲唱又有錢掙,乾脆不要回來了!」于萬增的太太這麼對他建議。


在十六場演出、九場演講叫好又叫座的掌聲中,大陸「中國京劇院」一行九十六人已於五月底踏上返程,回到大陸又將是三天曬網、兩天打漁地閒散了,然而一級演員于萬增卻仍在台灣忙碌著。

六月上旬,于萬增趕在國光藝校學生畢業公演之前,給他們說戲、分析角色心理衝突,還一邊糾正他們的身段架式。接著有四、五個電視、廣播節目要他介紹京劇。壓軸的是七月底,他將和魏海敏、陳元正等台灣藝人演出「柳蔭記」、「秦香蓮」等戲碼。

值得,值得,台灣行

他之所以特別「幸運」,實乃有「台灣關係」的緣故。其實早在前年底,于萬增便趁來台探望舅舅蕭運生的機會,參加了大鵬劇團「玉堂春」的演出,成為第一個在台灣登台的大陸小生。今年初,他自己再次向中京院告假來台,三場演出全是滿座。

問起收入,他並不避諱。計算一下,包括演出酬勞、教學、上節目,半年時間大約有新台幣卅萬元,大概是他在大陸十二年的薪資。「這裡的人很熱情,知道我從大陸來,許多額外收入都給我,親戚朋友也給了很多紅包」,于萬增說。

回到大陸,他不斷告訴京劇院同志,來台演出非常「值得」。「這『值得』不光指收入,重要的是精神上的安慰。像這樣京劇的講習,在大陸要有兩三人聽就不錯了,怎麼可能像這裡連走道邊上都站著人!」于萬增感慨地表示。

萬民擁戴名演員

一九四九年,國共戰火方消。避居上海的梅蘭芳抵達北京火車站,梨園名伶全到場迎接,其中也包括了與四大名旦齊名的筱翠花(于連泉),也就是于萬增的祖父。這一年于萬增才是個一歲的娃兒。

父親于世文也是菊壇名伶。在他小學時,祖父還登台,父親則一早起就在家中吊嗓、排戲。「走進這一行是薰出來的」,于萬增回憶。

當年參加文化部直屬的中國戲曲學校考試時,校長蕭長華是他外曾祖父,主考官是他外公,在他們的支持下,于萬增踏入梨園圈子。

「在我學戲那時代,京劇演員是很高尚的職業,就像今天的流行歌手」,于萬增說。京戲名角被周恩來召見是常有的事,要不就是戲唱到一半,觀眾起立,原來是毛澤東來看戲。而學校裡,也常有同學被召到中南海去唱段小戲。在大陸藝術一級演員中,京劇演員佔了百分之九十五,地位高,工資更高,像是馬連良、周信芳等名角,在當時的一個月工資可領到近二千元的人民幣,而一般勞動者只有六十元左右。

在師資上有包括了蕭長華、侯喜瑞等十大名師;指導于萬增的小生,則是一直和梅蘭芳配戲的姜妙香,還有精通梅尚程荀各派別小生戲的老師陳盛泰。「學校生活很光明」,于萬增記得下了課大家就跑去搶道具、佔練功房。總希望畢業時,可以千中選一給選入「中國京劇院」。

誰也沒想著成名

只是沒等到畢業,文化大革命就如火如荼地翻天覆地起來。「我們也就完了」,于萬增說,幹革命、搞運動取代吊嗓子和壓腿。接著他下放到河北省張家口,每天就是種地、抓田蛙、撈蝦米,「誰也再沒想過還要成名,根本連能不能再回到北京都不知道」,于萬增說來不帶一絲埋怨,像在說別人家的事。

家裡更慘,屬於三名(名氣)三高(工資)範圍的京劇演員沒有一個能躲過抄家。于萬增和哥哥,趕在紅衛兵抄家前,先自己抄個乾淨。「一切有記憶、有價值的東西全焦了」,他和哥哥連家中桌椅上螺鈿紋飾也一一敲掉。祖父則一旁愣怔,親手撕掉心愛的大劇照。「要給抄到了,是會出人命的,能留下的就是性命了。」

兩年之後,于萬增進了北京軍區「戰友京劇團」(類似台灣的藝工大隊),能演的就只有八出樣板戲,翻來覆去。時間算起來長,說起來卻沒什麼,「每天就是拔草,學政治」,于萬增兩句話帶過文革十年浮沉的日子。

能耐等機會

「四人幫」倒台、文革結束這一年,于萬增廿七歲。有一天父親嚴肅地對他說:「再三年你就卅歲,現在你是有家室的人了,那你藝術上要怎麼辦呢?」父親提醒他,只有能耐等機會,沒有機會等能耐,現在肯幹還是來得及。一句話點醒夢中人,於是他一頭埋入、重新學起。一齣齣有小生角色的戲碼,一句句地找老師學,有的一齣跟上四、五個老師學。這樣三年後,傳統戲終於又恢復了,于萬增的心更是活了起來,只有加緊埋頭再練。

有一回,好不容易有了演出機會,隊裡排「白蛇傳」斷橋折子戲,卻不知誰能唱許仙,最後是一位學武生的戰友獲選上場。雖然已經卅歲了,于萬增仍難過得哭了起來。

果真是能耐等機會,五年苦練後,他以一齣「白衣渡江」在北平引起矚目。這齣第一次以小生為主角的新編戲,小生全場有一百卅句唱腔,比一般戲整整多了三倍。其中還包括一些像是二黃慢板這樣近卅年沒人唱過的曲調,以及新創的二黃娃娃調,是一齣極度考驗演員的大戲,正好一展于萬增五年苦學的實力。

當時梅蘭芳最得意的女弟子杜近芳,正為找不到配戲的小生苦惱,於是于萬增開始借調至中京院,跟著杜近芳國內、外四處公演。「和杜近芳這樣國寶級演員同台對戲,整個演員的格兒,都提上去了」,他說這算是他生命的轉折點。

幸與不幸?難界定

于萬增名氣日增,軍隊反而諸多壓制,不准他外借。一九八八年他毅然捨下工資高約一倍的戰友京劇團,正式成為中京院一員。年少時以為不遠的地方,竟是緩了廿年才走到!

劇院裡,一些前輩演員也常對他慨嘆「可惜啊!你們沒趕上好時機,要不然像你這樣扮相、嗓音都好的條件,一定可以大紅大紫的!」于萬增倒不以為意。他覺得,自己固然沒趕上老前輩那樣的風光,但是私自忖度,「真要是那個時機,好角色那麼多,自己也就不會這麼特出了」,像是文革前,和杜近芳配戲的是李少春、葉盛蘭這樣大角色,要不是文革把他們革壞了,恐怕許仙一角就輪不到他。「環境的變化,幸或不幸,真是很難說!」

簡單藝術掙大錢

自從大陸推行改革開放路線以來,年輕一代對外來文化正感鮮新好奇,沒了觀眾,各京劇團都儘量減低演出次數,原本一年一百八十場演出底限也已取消,「沒辦法,越演越賠錢!」中京院院長呂瑞明表示。一張京劇門票五到十元人民幣,賣座不到三成;而一場熱門音樂演唱會門票一百到一百四十元左右,在體育館內擠滿一、二萬人。

「這叫工資倒掛」,于萬增解釋,簡單藝術掙大錢,複雜藝術反而掙不了錢,就是人常說的「一個教授還不如一個賣烤白薯的」,不少演員於是紛紛轉業。一個二路演員轉業賣羊肉片,掙了大錢,便花上人民幣五千元,請來中京院知名花旦劉長瑜和他配戲,過足了戲癮。

于萬增的太太,原本是戰友京劇團的樂師,近年來兼著訓練中年婦女時裝模特兒和教授國際標準舞,忙得很快樂。最近她又在貿易行搞了一份「第三職業」呢!

滿地找坑的蘿蔔

「劇團現在的演出真是少到不能再少」,于萬增說,他曾有半年沒有上戲的經驗。演員若想增加演出,得靠自己創造機會,也就是「走穴」。

所謂走穴,是指參加自己戲團以外的演出。像是到山東,天津去掛當地劇團;有的則是自己包攬演出機會,招些人小組演出;最受演員們喜愛的則莫過於「清唱」。「很簡單,清唱省力、討好、掙錢多!」這穿插在綜藝晚會中的節目,不上妝也不著戲服,一段唱下來就不只一個月工資。中京院八百多名演員,北平市內有十三個劇團,能在晚會中清唱的畢竟還是少數名角,其他演員的苦悶可以想像了。「那些跑龍套、唱宮女的,有的就是穿著戲服在飯店走來走去,全成了『下酒菜』了!京劇走到這地步,挺叫人心酸的!」于萬增不禁嘆道。

短暫的青春

至於他自己,書生氣質的于萬增緩緩說道,「我已經四十五歲了,除了唱戲,就會養養熱帶魚,可那是花錢事兒,又不能掙錢。」他明白以他目前的嗓子、形貌和人生閱歷,正是唱戲的黃金時段。小生的壽命原本有限,再要老了就不好看,上不了台了。「這段時光很短,所以我不會轉業,好好再唱也就這三五年了。」

那是否如太太的說法留在台灣發展呢?

對大陸演員而言,「台灣是京劇最後一塊可以經營的地方,這裡觀眾的素質高、文盲少,對演員很理解」,于萬增很喜歡在台灣登台。不過他並不打算長期在此發展,「唱多了,只會唱壞觀眾的胃口。如果我成了台灣演員,只怕觀眾也就不新鮮了,你說是嗎?」

〔圖片說明〕

P.8

和大陸國寶級演員杜近芳(右)同台演出,不僅豐富了于萬增的戲劇經驗,連著演員的「格兒」也提了上來。(時報週刊鄧惠恩攝)

P.9

「中國京劇院」來台演出記者會上,包括于萬增在內(左一)的一級演員濟濟一堂,令媒體、觀眾大呼過隱。(卜華志攝)

P.10

傳統戲恢復,于萬增終於有機會再次一展實力。(時報週刊鄧惠恩攝)

P.11

「這裡的學生程度雖然不及大陸,但是用心、好學」,于萬增來台除了演出,也在國光藝校國劇科教戲。

P.12

因探望舅舅而到台灣多次演出的于萬增,父母兩方、上下三代都是梨園伶人。

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EN

Yu Wanzeng--Finding Pastures New

Ventine Tsai /photos courtesy of Hsueh Chi-kuang /tr. by Robert Taylor

For lack of opportunities to perform on stage in Mainland China, many Peking Opera artists who play supporting roles such as soldiers, servants and palace maids put on their stage costumes and rove about the tourist hotels, becoming a "side dish" to amuse the guests as they enjoy their drinks. Even a Grade 1 performer like Yu Wanzeng has gone as long as six months without a stage appearance.

"In Taiwan you've got the chance to perform and earn some money too, why not just stay there!" Yu Wanzeng's own wife suggested to him.


At the end of May, after 16 stage performances and nine lectures, all before appreciative audiences in packed houses, most of the 96 visitors from Mainland China's "China Peking Opera Company" set off on their journey home, to return to a languid life of working "two days on, three days off." But Grade 1 performer Yu Wanzeng stayed behind in Taiwan, still working busily.

Well worth the journey to Taiwan:

In early June, in the little time remaining before the public graduation performance by the students of Kwo Khang Art School, Yu Wanzeng hurried to give them master classes, analyzing the characters' psychological conflicts, while at the same time correcting the students' posture and movements. Since then he has appeared on four or five TV and radio programs to explain Peking Opera. The grand finale will be at the end of July when he appears with Wei Hai-min, Chen Yuen-cheng and other artists from Taiwan to perform works such as Liao Yin Chi and Chin Hsiang-lian.

The reason for Yu Wanzeng's "good fortune" lies in his "Taiwan connections." In fact, back in late 1991, taking advantage of a trip to visit his uncle Hsiao Yun-sheng in Taiwan, Yu Wanzeng played with the ROC air force's Ta Peng Chinese Opera Troupe in Su Tang Chun, thus becoming the first mainland hsiaosheng to perform in Taiwan. Early this year he once again took leave from the China Peking Opera Company to play in three performances in Taiwan, all of them to full houses.

Yu Wanzeng does not object to being asked about his income: what with stage performances, teaching and media appearances, it adds up to some NT$300,000 over six months, or about 12 years' salary on the mainland. "People here are very warmhearted. When they find out I am from the mainland, they give me all kinds of extra money, and friends and family have given me many 'red envelopes,'" says Yu Wanzeng.

When back on the mainland he is constantly telling his comrades at the China Peking Opera Company that coming to perform in Taiwan is very much "worthwhile." "By 'worthwhile' I don't just mean the money, the psychological boost is the important thing. If you give lectures like this about opera on the mainland, you're happy if just two or three people turn up; there's no way you'd have people even standing in the aisles like you do here!" says Yu Wanzeng with emotion.

Opera stars were the darlings of the nation:

In 1949, with the civil war between the Kuomintang and the Communists barely over, when Mei Lanfang arrived at Beijing Railway Station from Shanghai where he had taken shelter from the fighting, all the famous opera stars were there to meet him. Among them was Xiao Cuihua (Yu Lian-quan), a female impersonator whose fame rivalled that of the "four great female impersonators" of the 1920's (Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Xun Huisheng and Shang Xiaoyun). Xiao Cuihua was Yu Wanzeng's grandfather; at the time Yu Wanzeng was a baby less than a year old.

His father Yu Shiwen was also a well-known artist. When Yu Wanzeng was at primary school his grandfather was still on the stage, and at home his father would start exercising his voice and rehearsing roles as soon as he got up in the morning. "This business was in my blood from the start," Yu Wanzeng recalls.

As a boy he took the entrance exam for the China Operatic School, which was directly administered by the Ministry of Culture. The School's principal was his maternal great-grandfather Xiao Changhua, and its chief examiner was his maternal grandfather. With their help, Yu Wanzeng entered the circle of Chinese opera performers.

"In the days when I was studying opera, being a Chinese opera performer was a very glamorous profession, just like a pop singer nowadays," says Yu Wanzeng. For Peking Opera stars to be invited to meet Zhou Enlai was commonplace, and it was no rare thing for the audience to stand up part way through a performance, indicating that Mao Zedong himself had come to watch. Students from the School were often called to Zhongnanhai (the residence of top mainland leaders) to sing excerpts from operas. Of mainland China's Grade 1 per forming artists, 95% were Peking Opera artists. Their status was high and so was their pay: stars like Ma Lianliang and Zhou Xinfang drew salaries approaching RMB2000 a month, at a time when ordinary manual workers only took home about RMB60.

Though the School's teachers included 10 great masters such as Xiao Changhua and Hou Xirui, the ones who trained Yu Wanzeng to play hsiaosheng roles were Jiang Miaoxiang, who played alongside Mei Lanfang for many years, and Chen Shengtai, a master of the Mei, Shang, Chang and Hsun schools' hsiaosheng styles. "Life at the School was full of optimism," recalls Yu Wanzeng, recounting how after class everyone would rush to grab props and bag a training booth. Each of them hoped that when they graduated they would be among the select few to be accepted into the China Peking Opera Company.

No one dreamed of fame any more:

But before they could graduate, the chaos of the Cultural Revolution burst upon China. "That was the end for us," says Yu Wanzeng. Singing practice and stretching exercises gave way to making revolution and taking part in political campaigns. Then he was sent down to the countryside, to Zhangjiakou in Hebei Province, where every day was spent working in the fields, catching frogs or fishing for prawns. "No one dreamt of becoming famous any more; we didn't even know if we'd ever be able to go back to Beijing," Yu Wanzeng says without a trace of bitterness, as if speaking of events which had happened to someone else.

Things were even worse for his family. Peking Opera actors were categorized among the "three famous and three highs" (famous authors, directors and performers; high wages, author's fees and other remuneration), and as such none could escape having their houses ransacked and their property confiscated. Before the Red Guards arrived, Yu Wanzeng and his elder brother hurriedly searched the family house themselves to dispose of everything "incriminating." "Everything with memories attached, everything of any value, all went up in smoke." He and his brother even chiselled the inlaid mother-of-pearl decorations one by one from the family's tables and chairs. Their grandfather stood by as if in a daze, personally tearing up the beloved photographs of his great opera performances. "If those had been found it would have meant death; all we could hold onto was our lives."

Two years later, Yu Wanzeng joined the Beijing Military Region's "Armed Forces Peking Opera Troupe" (similar to the Performing Arts Brigade in Taiwan), but all they could perform were the eight "model operas," repeated ad infinitum. It was a long period of time, but he has little to say about it. "Every day we had to pull up grass and study politics," says Yu Wanzeng, glossing over 10 years of turmoil in just one sentence.

Talent waiting for an opportunity:

The year the "Gang of Four" fell from power and the Cultural Revolution came to an end, Yu Wanzeng was 27. One day his father said to him earnestly: "In three years you'll be 30; you're a man with a family now, but what are you going to do about your artistic career?" His father warned him that talent has to find the right opportunity, opportunities do not wait for talent. If he was prepared to work hard there was still time. His father's words awoke Yu Wanzeng as if from a dream, and from then on he put all his energy into relearning his craft, seeking out masters to coach him line by line through operas containing hsiaosheng roles. Some pieces he studied with as many as four or five teachers. After three years, traditional operas were finally allowed to be staged again, and an elated Yu Wanzeng began training even more assiduously.

Once a rare opportunity to perform turned up: the army troupe was to play the "Tuanchiao" scene from the Legend of the White Snake, and had not found anyone to sing the role of Hsu Hsien. But finally another member of the troupe who had studied wusheng (male acrobatic roles) was chosen for the part. Although already 30 years old, Yu Wanzeng was so disappointed that he wept.

At last his chance did arrive. After five years of hard training, he was noticed for his performance in Pai Yi Tu Chiang in Beijing. This newly written piece was the first in which a hsiaosheng played the leading role. The whole work contained 130 hsiaosheng singing lines, which is three times the usual amount. They included sections in singing styles such as "slow ehrhuang" which had not been used for nearly thirty years, and in the newly created "baby ehrhuang" style. The piece was a highly challenging, first-rate work, and provided a perfect opportunity for Yu Wanzeng to demonstrate the mastery he had gained in five years of hard study.

At that time Du Jinfang, Mei Lanfang's favorite female student, had been searching desperately for a hsiaosheng to play opposite her. Yu Wanzeng was seconded to the China Peking Opera Company, where he performed with Du Jinfang at many venues inside and outside China. "To play on the same stage with a 'National Treasure' Grade artist like Du Jinfang raised my whole stature as a performer, says Yu Wanzeng, who looks upon that time as a turning point in his life.

Good luck or bad? It's hard to say:

Yu Wanzeng's fame grew by the day, but he found himself obstructed at every turn by the army, which refused to lend him to other troupes. In 1988 he resolved to leave the Armed Forces Peking Opera Troupe and formally join the China Peking Opera Company, although they could pay only half his previous salary. When he was a youngster it had seemed so close, but it had taken him twenty years to get there!

In the Company, some older artists would often say to him with regret: "What a pity you didn't come to us in better times; with your good stage looks and fine voice, you'd surely have been a great success!" But Yu Wanzeng was not convinced. It was true that he was too late to see the glamour of the old masters' days, but privately he surmised that "if I'd really been there in those days, with so many good performers around, then I would never have stood out like that." Before the Cultural Revolution Du Jinfang played opposite such great artists as Li Shaochun and Ye Shenglan. If the Cultural Revolution had not destroyed their careers, he might never have got the part of Hsu Hsien. "The environment had changed, but was it good luck or bad?" It's hard to say!"

Big money for simple art:

Since the mainland began pursuing its policies of reform and opening, the younger generation has been attracted by the novelty of imported culture, and the Peking Opera companies, faced with shrinking audiences, have had to reduce their number of performances, abandoning the previous minimum of 180 shows per year. "What can we do? The more shows we put on, the more money we lose!" says Lu Ruiming, director of the China Peking Opera Company. Tickets for Peking Opera cost RMB5 to RMB10 each, but only three seats in ten are filled, while a pop music concert can pack a sports stadium with ten or twenty thousand people with tickets priced at around RMB100 to RMB140.

"It's what you might call an inverted payscale," explains Yu Wanzeng. Simple art earns the big money, while complex art earns none. That's what people mean when they say "you can make more selling baked potatoes than being a professor." Many performers have changed jobs. One former supporting-role singer who made a fortune selling mutton shishkebabs spent RMB5000 to indulge his love of the opera by having Liu Changyu, a famous player of huatan (lively young female roles) from the China Peking Opera Company, come and perform with him.

Yu Wanzeng's wife was originally a musician at the Armed Forces Peking Opera Troupe, but in recent years she has also been training middle-aged women as fashion models and teaching ballroom dancing, which keep her both busy and happy. Recently she has even started a "third job" with a trading company!

Creating one's own opportunities:

"The number of shows the operatic troupes are putting on nowadays really couldn't be any smaller," says Yu Wanzeng. He himself has had to "rest" for as long as six months at a time. If artists wish to in crease their number of performances, they have to create their own opportunities--in other words, to go "moonlighting."

For them, moonlighting means taking part in performances put on by other opera troupes, for instance going to Shandong or Tianjin to play with the local companies there. Some organize their own work opportunities by putting together a small group of performers. What the artists themselves like most are "oratorio" performances. "The reason is very simple; it's not much effort, audiences like it, and you can make good money!" Slipped into an evening's variety show, oratorio performances are done without costume or makeup, and just by singing a short section from a piece one can earn more than an ordinary month's salary. But with over 800 performers in the China Peking opera Company alone, and 13 Peking Opera troupes in Beijing Municipality, only a minority of well-known players actually have the chance to perform at evening functions in this way, so the frustration felt by the other artists can be imagined. "Some of the performers who play supporting roles such as soldiers, servants and palace maids put on their stage costumes and rove about the tourist hotels, becoming nothing but a 'side dish' to amuse the guests as they enjoy their drinks! It's a sad thing to see Peking Opera come to this!" says Yu Wanzeng sorrowfully.

Fleeting youth:

As for himself, the scholarly- looking Yu Wanzeng says slowly: "I'm already 45; I can't do anything but sing and raise tropical fish, but the fish eat money, they don't earn it." He knows that his voice, looks and experience make now his golden years for singing opera. The career of any hsiaosheng performer is limited, for once he grows older and loses his looks, he will no longer get any parts. "The time is very short, so I won't take a second job, I'll just keep on singing--I only have three to five more years."

So will he stay in Taiwan to pursue his career, as his wife suggested?

For artists from the mainland, "Taiwan is the last place left where Peking Opera is viable. The audiences are of high quality, there is not much illiteracy, and people have a good understanding of the actors." Yu Wanzeng likes playing in Taiwan very much. But he does not plan to stay and pursue his career here in the long term, for "If you perform too much, you'll just spoil the audiences' appetite. If I became a Taiwanese performer, then I'm afraid I'd lose my novelty value for the audiences here. Don't you think so?"

[Picture Caption]

p.8

Playing opposite the mainland's "National Treasure" Grade artist Du Jinfang (right) not only enriched Yu Wanzeng's operatic experience, it also raised his whole "stature" as a performer. (photo by Teng Hui-en, courtesy of China Times Weekly)

p.9

A news conference held when the "China Peking Opera Company" came to perform in Taiwan brought together many Grade 1 performers including Yu Wanzeng (far left). Their arrival delighted the media and audiences alike. (photo by Pu Hua-chih)

p.10

When traditional opera started playing again, Yu Wanzeng at last had a chance to display his talents. (photo by Teng Hui-en, courtesy of China Times Weekly)

p.11

"The students may not be as accomplished as on the mainland, but they are devoted and hardworking." Apart from performing in Taiwan, Yu Wanzeng has been giving Chinese opera classes at the Kwo Khang Art School's Chinese Opera Department.

p.12

Yu Wanzeng has performed many times in Taiwan while visiting his uncle here. His mother's and father's families have both been performing Chinese opera for generations.

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