Backstage Musical and Chen Kaige’s “FAREWELL” — to what?

Simulated Violence – A Masquerade for a Vanished Audience: the “dearth” of Yu Ji.

For better or worse, the “new kids” (excepting as always Zhang Yimou and Tian Zhuangzhuang) seem to have no longer the stomach even for enacted (simulated, verbalized) impulse as theatrical trope. Turandot’s (1998) Persian Prince is beheaded by gruesomely blade-twirling imp (Don’t Look Now), and a chorus of angelic white-clad virgins sing his epitaph, eventually inducing the bloody-minded Princess to end her rage at the entire male sex. But no other produced-in-China opera has dared touch this theme.

More astounding (and revealing ) still is the dismasking of the final enactment in Farewell (pps. 252 ff). General “Xiang Yu” (I shall reference the play’s characters by their role names, to avoid confusion) felt that he had stepped back in time [rather than being inhabited by the character he must play and the impulse built into it]. Yu Ji his concubine brought out his family’s heirloom sword and fastened it around Xiang Yu’s waist …. they were ready to go onstage. Yu ji was still in spite of her age full of spirit. (?) “Pray my lord , take a cup of wine ..”. (then) she (he) began to dance, singing: “Pray..let me sing you a song: I’ll dance to ease your sorrows… Xiang Yu danced STIFFLY (along)… and then it came to him (IMPULSE!!): He brought the sword to his throat and drew it across. Yu Ji rushed to his side …but Xiang Yu, held in (her) embrace, stared up into Yu Ji’s eyes… As the blood oozed from his body, Xiang Yu felt a kind of satisfaction spreading through him. IT WAS LIKE APPLAUSE… THIS WAS THE LAST ACT, THE PERFECT CLIMAX. … (THEN) Xiang Yu RETURNED TO HIS SENSES. THE GLITTERING TRAGEDY WAS OVER . IT HAD ALL BEEN A FAKE. MERELY A JOKE BUT A JOKE JUST THE SAME. (then stood up and smiled enigmatically” “I always did want to play (concubine) Yu Ji,.(against my sex.)..”

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