Modernizing Shaoxing Opera into Film: Liang-Zhu (1953) and Hongloumeng (1962)

Ironically or not, ultimately “new-script” Shaoxing opera – the production and performance of which Xiao Dangui gave her life for – was finally accomplished though an alien medium (color film), whose success marked the first stages of decline in the live audiencing of “Yue Opera”. Another step in the march of repromedia relentlessly opening one door only to close another. (Radio broadcast entered the audiencing from after the War, and helped working women get through the day, and added humming tunes to the “housewife” repertoire, but acting is more than vocalizing, and the radio-play bumps up against that limit).

Prompting the Stage Sisters retrospect (1964) were two big screen color adaptations: LiangZhu (Butterfly Lovers) in 1953, and Dream of the Red Chamber (1962), both by Shanghai (where else?) State owned studios (SFS and Haiyan).

These were in a sense the last gasp of “live” SXO, since the leads (Yuan Xuefen and Xu Yulan) were already by 1953 too old for the strains of night-after-night stage show (31 and 41), and their successors lacked the feeling for the original “minor opera” scripts (and audiences) that had birthed these two superstars. (To which it needs to be added that film-embedded Huangmei xi, ironically a stepson of the Ningpo birthed Shaw Bros., was always a step ahead in delivering new silver screen technicolor versions of old favorites…while recruiting cast and even stars from across the minor opera map..)

But their caught-just-in-time recording allows us to look beyond the normative summaries and pledges that clutter the reviews (left and right) to see first hand something of what made SXO so exuberant a form.


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