- •Contact us
- •About us
- •Advertise with the FT
- •Terms & conditions
© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
July 29, 2012 6:35 pm
Call it an essay in exotic erotica. Or, if it makes a difference, erotic exotica.
This is Feng Yi Ting, a taut little quasi-historic opera – it lasts less than 45 minutes – by Guo Wenjing, a Chinese composer steeped in ancient traditions yet susceptible to modernist accents. The American premiere took place this spring at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. New York caught up on Thursday at the intimate Lynch Theater of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
The title refers to the Phoenix Pavilion, where the heroine Diao Chan conspires to eliminate a political enemy and in the process save the Han Dynasty. The plot, which unfolds in stylised narration rather than overt action, is complex.
Essentially, Feng Yi Ting explores the wiles of a courtesan who persuades the warlord Lü Bu to murder his rival, the aristocrat Dong Zhuo. Atom Egoyan, the brilliant Canadian stage and film director, plays the inaction on a shadowy stage adorned with symbolic artefacts (designer: Derek McLane). Movement is reduced to ritual. Video manoeuvres by Tsang Kin-Wah and Cameron Davis mirror dramatic images and gestures.
Supertitles, in both Chinese and English, flash on a rear scrim with linear repetitions projected on the forestage floor. Individual letters sometimes fly away with mercurial speed. It is all mysterious, mythical, mystical. To these sadly untutored eyes, everything looks wondrously picturesque.
And the music? To these sadly untutored ears, everything sounds wondrously otherworldly.
A percussive chamber band, knowingly led by Ken Lam, rumbles, clicks and buzzes busily in the pit. The ensemble employs pipa, dizi, erhu, gaohu and sheng as well as conventional western instruments. Not incidentally, the orchestra plays for 10 atmospheric minutes, accompanying mime and film, before the first voice is heard.
Shen Tiemei, a glamorous Sichuan opera star, declaims Diao Chan’s breathless lines in a nasal soprano that cackles, whines, whimpers and wiggles audaciously. The idiom first seems weird, eventually seems natural. Jiang Qihu, of the Peking Opera, portrays Lü Bu with stoic control and fiercely disjointed falsetto tone. His statuesque poses reflect the discipline of an expressive system that spans centuries.
Initially Feng Yi Ting merely exerts the appeal of an odd foreign excursion. By the time it reaches its terse yet momentous climax, the impact is hypnotic.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.