Monday, June 28, 2010

National Symphony Orchestra embarks on telling story of gifted female artist Pan Yu-liang

By Nancy T. Lu

The story of the legendary female Chinese painter Pan Yu-liang will come to life in the National Symphony Orchestra’s big opera production “La Peintre, Yu-Lin” at the National Theater from July 8 to 11.

As told previously in a Gong Li-starring movie and later in a TV drama, Pan who was born with the Zhang surname in 1895 was sold to a brothel when she was only 13. After Pan Zan-hua, a customs official, made her his concubine, she adopted his family name.

Pan Yu-liang started taking lessons from Hong Ye, her neighbor and teacher at the Shanghai Art Institute. Liu Hai-su, a friend of Pan Zan-hua, saw talent in Pan and encouraged her to enroll at his school as the first female art student.

Pan Yu-liang’s fondness for drawing female nudes did not sit well with the conservative Shanghai society in those days.

Pan eventually went to Paris for her formal art training. She returned nine years later to teach at Liu’s school in Shanghai. Her past as a prostitute, however, haunted her. She eventually returned to the French capital and lived a lonely and impoverished life until 1977. Her plan to go back to China never materialized.

Pan produced many paintings in her life, including many nudes influenced in style by Matisse. She also did many self-portraits. Several of her works combining western and ink painting styles went on to win prizes at salons and exhibitions.

Juliette Deschamps, the young French stage director invited to work with the opera cast, revealed that she made an effort to view Pan’s paintings in French museums before coming to Taipei.

When Joyce Chiu, manager of NSO, first sent her an email to invite her to conduct the opera, Deschamps thought somebody was playing a joke on her. She later felt very delighted to have this opportunity to come to work in Asia.

Of the original Chinese-language opera, she remarked: “I have discovered and truly come to appreciate the beautiful poetic ring of the Chinese language.”

There will be Chinese subtitles on the two sides of the stage throughout the presentation of this opera.

Chien Nan-chang, one of Taiwan’s best-known composers, wrote the music for “La Peintre, Yu-lin” after receiving the script of the award-winning playwright Wang An-chi last year. This is the Germany-educated Chien’s third opportunity to write a commissioned opera.

Yip Wing-Sie, director of the Hongkong Sinfonietta and principal guest conductor of the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, will conduct the National Symphony Orchestra.

Chien heaped praises on Wang’s poetic lyrics. He previously wrote music to go with the poems written by poets like Xi Murong. So did Chu Tai-li, the Italy-based soprano cast in the role of Pan Yu-liang. She has had the most songs to memorize. Mewas Lin will be the alternate singer of the part of Pan in some of the performances.

Vocalizing the role of her husband is Beijing-born Chinese bass Tian Hao-jiang. Tian has been singing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 19 years. This is his second Taiwan visit. He performed in Zhang Yi-mou’s production of Puccini’s “Turandot” in Taichung not too long ago. Alternating as Pan Zan-hua is Wu Bai Yu-hsi.

At a sneak preview of the opera, the main cast appeared wearing clothes designed by Sophie Hong. Hong’s fashion style has consistently demonstrated Chinese influences with a Parisian flair, making her a good choice in the search for the designer of the opera’s costumes.

In charge of the set design (shown above) is Nelson Wilmotte. He has decided to play with 15 movable panels to create different and changing spaces at will as called for in telling the story of Pan Yu-liang. Stage lighting will also make a lot of difference as the story moves from Shanghai to Paris and back. Creative lighting design will also be crucial in the almost three-hour opera.

Nudity, a big and controversial issue in conservative Shanghai during the time of Pan Yu-liang, will be handled with subtlety and creativity in the production, according to Deschamps. Designer Hong also revealed that unfurled red cloth will suggest a model’s nudity in the opera. But original nude paintings of Pan will be projected on the stage.

Photo shows: (from left) composer Chien Nan-chang, soprano Chu Tai-li, stage director Juliette Deschamps, conductor Yip Wing-Sie, fashion designer Sophie Hong and bass Tian Hao-jiang.


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