1993 / 7月
Throughout April and May, the world of Peking Opera in Taiwan took on a thoroughly "mainland" flavor. Two great opera troupes the Beijing Peking Opera Company and the China Peking Opera Company, which are Mainland China's acknowledged leaders in Peking Opera came to Taiwan to give over thirty performances. Attracted by such "Great Master" grade performers as Mei Baojiu, Yuan Shihai, Du Jinfang, and many children of great stars of the past, Taiwanese audiences packed the theaters, filled with a sense of both novelty and nostalgia. With the help of an attendant media build-up, the tours were a resounding success.
On stage, under the bright lights, everything was glamorous, but when the audience had gone home after the last curtain call, the mainland artists all told the same sad story of aging audiences and a dearth of opportunities to perform, which are forcing actors everywhere to go "moonlighting." Clearly the environment for Peking Opera on the mainland is not as flourishing as audiences here in Taiwan imagine.
The mainland troupes' descent en masse on Taiwan has aroused mixed feelings among local artists. Some complain that there are "no pieces left to put on"; others are eager to learn from their colleagues from across the water and boldly take up the challenge. Each side looks at the other and compares it with itself. Artists from Taiwan envy the training of the mainland performers, while the mainlanders admire the quality of Taiwan's audiences. But apart from mutual envy, perhaps by examining the careers of performers from both Taiwan and the mainland, we can understand the different environments for Peking Opera on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Wu Hsing-kuo and Yu Wanzeng are five years apart in age; one was formerly the Lu Kuang Chinese Opera troupe's leading performer of wuhsusheng (older male acrobatic roles), while the other is a Grade 1 performer of hsiaosheng (younger male roles) at the China Peking Opera Company. Both of them have devoted their lives to Peking Opera, their days accompanied by the sound of gongs and drums.
At the end of last year, Wu Hsing-kuo resolved to leave the army opera troupe and went to Hong Kong to act in films, also taking parts in several adverts. Yu Wanzeng was the first mainland artist to perform a hsiaosheng role in Taiwan. In the limited world of Peking Opera, both men have followed different paths from their fellow performers.
(Photo by Victor J. Yang, courtesy of China Times Weekly)