Out of mercy we shall spare “Life on a String”, which fails (save for a fantasy of seduction of the tavern-keeper’s wife) to rise to any lyrical power at all, only prayer, recited to utterly unevocative recitatif.
But most revealing of all is Chen’s almost exact adherence to the novel from which the film/opera gets its name. (Though even that adherence is cloaked in uncertainty). We have watched what passes for a stage murder in the preceding clip, but unless we have listened closely, we will have failed to note Yu Ji’s “Very well, then, let’s try it again”. That is no deflection, for the novel is very exact on this point: no real (spontaneous) violence of any sort occurs: the actors are too fatigued by their mask-wearing even to consider it.
“And then it came to him (Xiang Yu – Dieyi). He brought the sword to his throat and drew it across. Xiaolou (Yu Ji) rushed to Dieyi’s side and tried to stop the blood … Held in his embrace, Dieyi stared into Xiaolou’s eyes. …As the blood oozed from his body, Dieyi felt a kind of satisfaction spreading through him. It was like applause. This was the last act, the perfect climax….. “Brother” (Xiaolou was shaking him) “the play is over!” Dieyi returned to his senses. The glittering tragedy was over. It had all been a fake…It had been merely a joke…. (then) standing up … he smiled enigmatically: “I always (as cross-dressed) DID want to be Yu Ji!”. ..