• Wang An-chi

  • Mathias Woo

  • Wang Kou-chiang

  • Yu Yat-yiu@PMPS

  • Nerve

  • Lee Chao

  • Tobias Gremmler

  • Tang Wen-hua

  • Huang Yi-yung

  • Chu Sheng-li

  • Liu Yu-zhi

  • Chou Shen-hsing

  • GuoGuang Opera Company

    • Winner of the 9th National Award of Art, Doctor of Literature and current Distinguished Professor of the National Taiwan University, Wang An-qi has begun to work with noted Peking opera performers such as Kuo Hsiao-chuang, Wu Hsing-kuo and Wei Haimin since 1985. She has been the artistic director of the GuoGuang Opera Company since 2002, and adapted The Golden Cangue, “Trilogy of Opera Actors”, 18 Arhats and many other plays. She has also garnered the Golden Tripod Awards for Publications from the Information Bureau, National Award of Art from the Ministry of Education, Kui Xing Award, from the Script Writers Association, and Armed Forces Golden Statues Awards for Literature and Arts four times in the scriptwriter category. The play 18 Arhats (2015) gained five awards at the annual Taishin Arts Awards.

    • A director, a scriptwriter and a designer, Mathias Woo is a forerunner of cross-boundary and multimedia theatre. His works include Eighteen Springs, Hua-yen Sūtra, 1587, A Year of No Significance, and the East Wing West Wing series, with topics covering literature, history, current affairs, architecture, religion, etc.

    • Director and the rehearsal director of GuoGuang Opera Company, Wang Kou-chiang graduated from the Ta Wan Chinese Opera Training Course (Dawan Guoju Xunlianban), Department of Drama of the National Taiwan University of Arts, Graduate Institute of Art Studies of the Fo Guang University. Specializing in jiazi hualian (character painted face) roles, he served in the Ming-to and Hai-kuang Chinese Opera Troupes and toured in Europe and the US with the Contemporary Legend Theatre and Li Baochun Theatre Troupe many times. He directed newly-adapted children’s Chinese opera The Adventures of Wu Ta-lang and Double Schemes in The Three Kingdoms. He often directs plays such as Lord Guan Flees to the Mai City, Li Huiniang, Mistakes in the Flower Field and Taking Gao Deng.

    • Ever since graduating from the Chinese University of Hong Kong with a major in Geography, Yu Yat-yiu has dedicated his life to music. Co-founded the music production company People Mountain People Sea with Anthony Wong in 1999, Yu has been composing and producing music for many Hong Kong pop singers such as Cass Phang, Anita Mui, Miriam Yeung, Juno Mak, etc. He was nominated twice for the Best Original Film Score in the Hong Kong Film Awards with music created for Hold You Tight and Prince of Tears. He also writes columns for Ming Pao Weekly, Milk X and Moutai, and his publications include Hong Kong Talks Music.

    • Nerve studied composition and electronic music at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. His recent works include the digital opera The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (2010), The Four Infinities for the opening of the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre (2011), live soundtrack of the 1950s film Family, Spring, Autumn with Kung Chi-shing, and also as Music Director of Decade for the West Kowloon Cultural District (2013) and 1984 Cinematic Opera (2014).

    • Jinghu artist, previously musician of the China National Peking Opera Company, currently Music Director and musician of GuoGuang Opera Company. He had begun to study under his father and notable musican Li Zhuangtu since childhood, and had played for famous performers such as Du Jinfang and Yuan Shihai. He is well-versed in the art of the Mei School and has arranged arias for GuoGuang’s various plays, such as Fox Tales, Mr. Goodman Dumps His Wife,and Three Persons and Two Lamps.He was named “Traditional Artist” by Taipei’s Bureau of Cultural Heritage in 2015.

    • A media artist and an designer, Tobias Gremmler’s works have been shown at numerous art festivals and exhibitions, including ARS Electronica, Transmediale and Red Dot Design Museum. Gremmler also gives lectures and workshops at universities in Europe, America and Asia.

    • Tang Wen-hua graduated from the Fu Hsing Dramatic Arts Academy, and is the lead martial and civil laosheng of the troupe. He was awarded the National Army Cultural Award for best sheng (male lead), Culture and Arts Award, the Sokka Gakkai International Cultural Award, the Taiwan Junior Chamber’s Global Chinese Arts and Cultural Heritage Award, and the Taiwan National Culture and Arts Award. Tang joined the GuoGuang Opera Company when it was founded in 1995. His signature performances include traditional Peking Opera works such as The Opera of Three Kingdoms and Slashing the Imperial Robe.

      He starred in GuoGuang’s new opera works The Golden Cangue, The Painting of 18 Lohans, and Journey Through Hell which won him the Golden Bell Award.

    • Trained in jing (painted face), Huang graduated from the 22nd class of the Fuxing Drama School and studied under Master Yang Zhen-gang. He served in Fuxing Drama Group, and Li Baochun’s Taipei Li-yuan. He joined the GuoGuang Opera Company in 2006. His repertoire includes: Huang Tianba Visits the Bandits’ Stronghold, Famen and Reunion at Gucheng. He also played in Creative Society’s production My Baby Doll.

    • Specializing in huadan (young female) and daomaden (warrior female) roles, Chu graduated from the Chinese Opera Division of the National Taiwan University of Arts,  and obtained her Master’s Degree from the Graduate Institute of Art Studies of the Fo Guang University. She studied under notable Masters such as Chin Hui-fen, Liu Ming-pao, and Lu Ching-chun. She served in the Lu-kuang Chinese Opera Troupe, entered GuoGuang in its founding year of 1995. Her repertoire includes Mu Ke Zhai, Smashing the Coffin, and Zhao-jun Leaving the Country..She also played in new adaptations such as Mr. Goodman Dumps His Wife, Three People and Two Lamps and Fox Tales.

    • Trained in jing (painted face) Liu graduated from the Department of Jing Ju, National Taiwan College of Performing Arts. He studied under masters including Ting I-pao, Chang Yu-chiao and Lu Yu-kun. He joined Guoguang in 2012 and has learnt to play The Flowing Reed Flowers,, The Rhino Horn, Taking Gao Deng, etc. He also performed with the Contemporary Legend Theater, Po You Set, as well as Troupe of Jing Ju of the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts.

    • Specializing in chou (clown) roles, Chou from the Department of Jing Ju, National Taiwan College of Performing Arts. He studied wusheng (military male) roles in the beginning but later turned to wuchou (military clown). He was instructed by masters including Ting I-pao, Chang Yu-chiao and Liu Hsi-chung. An up-and-coming actor in military roles,  he is agile and good at acrobatics and acting. His repertoire includes Stealing Armors and Stealing the Silver Jar.

    • Since its establishment in 1995, GuoGuang Opera Company has devoted itself to infusing a modern consciousness in traditional Chinese Opera.  “Modernization” and “refinement” are two principles for the creation of new operas.  With diversified themes and skillful presentation, a novel of Eileen Chang and a calligraphic masterpiece of Wang Xi-chi were transformed into dramatic art.  GuoGuang Opera Company has been invited to perform in many countries from around the world, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia, Slovakia, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, Singapore, China, and Hong Kong.

Lord Guan Yu Peking Opera

Lord Guan Yu on Stage

  • Scenes
  • Scriptwriter's Note
  • Director’s Note
  • Peking Opera
Introduction & Credit List

16 . 09

[ Sat ] 8:15PM

17 . 09

[ Sun ] 3:00PM
Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre



Running time approximately 100 minutes with no intermission
Performed in Putonghua, with Chinese & English surtitles
No latecomers will be admitted, until a suitable break in the performance.
Zuni Icosahedron reserves the right to add, withdraw or substitute artists and/ or vary advertised programmes and seating arrangements.

Back theatre




Lord Guan Yu Peking Opera “Lord Guan Yu on Stage has shown the way forward for traditional Chinese opera!” - Bell Yung, Professor Emeritus of Department of Music, University of Pittsburgh. “Through establishing traditional rituals, the piece calls for interaction between man and his own life and living environment.” - Wu Yue-lin, Performing Arts Review (Taiwan), National Culture and Arts Foundation.


Showing Lord Guan Yu from man to god, with the classic basic skills of Peking opera: singing, talking, acting and fighting, and traditional rituals interspersed with new media technology. Battle, killing, sacrifice, compassion, becoming a god, subduing evil spirits… Begins with the loyal and heroic act of Guan Yu crossing five passes and slaying six generals. With the crossing of five passes, the cleansing of the stage is achieved by getting rid of the ominous evil spirits. Hence, he becomes a demon slayer, warding off evil and keeping the world in peace.

Creative Team

Scriptwriter, Artistic Director of GuoGuang Opera Company: Wang An-chi
Director, Stage & Digital Content Designer:Mathias Woo
Peking Opera Director:Wang Kou-chiang
Aria Arrangement (Peking Opera):Lee Chao
Motion Capture and Visualization:Tobias Gremmler
Digital content production: Terry Wu
Chinese Title Calligraphy: Tong Yang-tze
English Translation(Surtitle): Diana Liao


Tang Wen-hua as Lord Guan Yu
Liu Yu-zhi as Zhou Cang
Chou Shen-hsing as Coachman
Chiang Meng-tsung as Nine-tail Fox
Chang Chia-ling as Nine-tail Fox Incarnate
Huang Yi-yung as Story-teller A, Yan Liang, Wen Chou, Young Master, Old Monk, Wang Banxian
Chu Sheng-li as Story-teller B, Guan Ping, Cang Tou
Wang Yi-chiao, Hua Chih-yang, Kao Chen-nan, Liu Yu-chang , Huang Jun-Weias ,Pan Shou-Ho as Six Generals, Pang De’s Soldiers, White-clothed Soldiers, Tidal Waves, Fighting Generals

Production Team (Taiwan)

President of GuoGuang Opera Company: Chang, Vivian Yu-hua
Group Leader: Wang, Tzy Yung
Production Manager: Chiu, Hui-lin
Media PR Promotion: Hsieh, Ariel Chia-Jung
Stage Manager: Lin Ya-hui
Sound Operator: Lee Szu-ming
Surtitle Operator: Lee Yung-te
Wardrobe: Jang Mei-fang, Pan Chin-hui, Chu Chien-kuo

Live Music Performance

Chin Yen-long on Percussion
Hsu Chun-Hsuan on Large Gong
Sun Lien-chiao on Small Gong
Liao Hui-chung on Big Cymbals
Hsu Chia-ming on Sanxian
Chen Pei-chien on Yueqin

Production Team (Hong Kong)

Production Manager: Lawrence Lee
Production Coordinator: Chow Chun Yin
Lighting Designer: Zoe Cheung, Alice Kwong
Sound Designer: Candog Ha
Assistant Set Designer: Isaac Wong
Assistant Production Coordinator: Chan On-ki
Video Production: Wing Chan
Stagehands: Ray Chan, Chim Man Lung, Chung Ka Wah, Wong Sai Tsun
Stage Interns#: Lee Tin Lap, Sin Man Kit, Chow Ka Lok, Kwok Hiu Ying, Chan Wai Ho, Mak Hoi Chun, Wong Tsz Fung, Tang Yee Nga, So Chun Ho

#Students of Higher Diploma in Stage and Live Entertainment Technology, Department of Information Technology, IVE (Lee Wai Lee)

Zuni Team

Co-Artistic Director: Danny Yung
Co-Artistic Director cum Executive Director: Mathias Woo
Assistant Artistic Director: Cedric Chan
Performers-in-Residence: David Yeung, Carson Chung
Artist-in-Residence: Lai Tat-wing
Senior Researcher: Theresa Leung
Creative Assistant (Video and Multimedia): Wing Chan
Company Manager (Administration and Finance): Jacky Chan
Company Manager (Programme): Doris Kan
Senior Programme Manager: Bowie Chow
Manager (PR and Partnership Development): Luka Wong
Stage Manager: Gavin Chow
Assistant Programme Manager: Rachel Chak, Ricky Cheng, Ho Yin-hei
Programme and Art Administration Trainee: Kason Chi, Stephanie Loo
International Exchange Director: Wong Yuewai
Research Director (Archive): Chan Pik-yu
Project Assistant Manager (Archive and Video): Wong Sze-mei
Project Assistant (Culture Exchange): Orchid Hu
Administrative Trainee: Dan Tse


English Translation (Publicity): Vicky Leong
Graphics: Pollux Kwok, Rachel Chak
Promotional Video: Wong Sze-mei
Stage Photography: Liu Chen-hsiang
Graphic Design Assistant: Coco Cheung

Advised by


Performed by
Programme of ”Chinese Music Rocks!”

  • Scenes

    Excerpt I A Hero’s Untold Blood
    Interlude 1 Legends and Taboos

    Excerpt II Overcoming Obstacles
    Interlude 2 The River’s Remorseless Ebb and Flow

    Excerpt III Death at Maicheng
    Interlude 3 Taboo and Banned Drama

    Excerpt IV A God Subjugating Evil Spirits
    The Ending A Sacred Souvenir

  • What is Lord Guan Yu on Stage?
    Wang An-chi, Scriptwriter

    Lord Guan Yu on Stage is a newly-conceived experimental theatre instead of a full-length traditional performance of the Legend of Guan Yu

    Lord Guan Yu on Stage is a manifestation of ‘the mental process of how to play the role Guan Yu in theatre’. In this performance, in addition to playing the important actions in Lord Guan’s life, and Lord Guan becoming a deity after his death, his subduing of evil spirits, there will be two storytellers, a man and a woman, who would present in Chinese cross talk or comic dialogue the issues of all actors playing the role of Lord Guan should observe the rite of fasting and taking a bath before performing, and any troupe performing the death of Lord Guan would share certain psychological taboos, etc. Thus, Guan Yu on Stage is a sort of metatheatre, with Lord Guan’s self-reflection, as well as the opinions of the storytellers on the character of Guan Yu and the actor, and of course, the most enticing part would be the spectacular excerpts from the Peking opera of “Lord Guan Yu”. Therefore, the title of this performance should not be Lord Guan or the Legend of Guan Yu because it includes the many aspects of theatre, including the things happening onstage and offstage, and the manifestations of interwoven dialogues of multiple perspectives. This is a newly conceived experimental theatre. Though it includes a few excerpts of traditional opera of Lord Guan, the idea of the performance is entirely new.

    Since Lord Guan Yu is a widely-admired god, presenting his flaws on stage is usually a taboo. However, I consider a performance a truthful artistic creation only if it restores the lord to an ordinary man with flaws. Hence, I have opted to depict three aspects of his life. First, his most prominent trait of loyalty and righteousness through the excerpt on “crossing five passes and slaying six generals in search of Liu Bei while protecting Liu’s wives”. Second, the apex of his achievements when he drowns the seven armies of Cao Cao. Yet, after he has made his name throughout China, his ever-growing arrogance and ego get the best of him. This leads to his defeat and death in Mai town, the third aspect in this performance. By putting Lord Guan, who is fleeing on a mountain path, alongside Cao, who is released on Huarong Trail, I intend to show that Lord Guan shares the closest relationships not only with his sworn brothers, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei, but also with his enemy, Cao Cao. Weaving Cao into Lord Guan’s life story is my creative take on character building in this play. Experimental theatre demands creativity not only in its form, but more fundamentally so, in its content. The issue is, then, how this arrogant man becomes a much respected god? I have written “redemption” into the play where Lord Guan is enlightened by an old monk of Mount Yuquan and realises the cruelty of killing. It is this “compassion” that turns the man into a god. I have also brought in Meeting the Enemies Alone by Yuan Dynasty playwright Guan Hanqing for cross-examination.

    Deified, Lord Guan becomes a protector of peace on earth. I have rewritten Mount Green Stone, a comedic martial play, to depict the joyful harmony after Lord Guan has subdued the demons.

    Why did I write Guan Yu on Stage?
    The piece was originally written for the opening of GuoGuang Opera Company’s new home, The Xiqu Center of Taiwan. Although the Zhong Kui dance is usually performed to expel evil spirits from a new theatre, Master Pei Yanling’s interpretation of the ghost catcher has become so emblematic that it is necessary for GuoGuang to consider an alternative. Performance of Lord Guan is a special feature as well as a focus in Peking opera (the Peking opera employs multi-tones, including xipi, erhuang, Kunqu, and the blowing tone. Kunqu plays, such as To the Banquet Armed, are included in the repertoire of Peking opera). These plays, with Lord Guan’s “red face, green robe, dark beard and red tassels”, accompanied by “Zhou Cang, the coachman, his Green Dragon Crescent Blade and war flag”, exude a majestic air. Their spectacular singing, talking, acting and acrobatic fighting form a most impressive performing art. More importantly, the performance of Lord Guan serves ritualistic functions. In some places in Southwestern China, Lord Guan may even sit down to enjoy a bowl of noodles on the street after the evil slaying ritual and proceeding to the next pass; yet, this scene is not included in this performance. Lord Guan is a popular god, and is worshipped at formation of new groups, opening of new businesses and all sorts of events for the purpose of subduing demons and maintaining peace in the area concerned. Lord Guan plays are most suitable as an opening performance. As such, I have written this piece with the concept of “rituals in play, play in rituals, play is rituals” to open and purify our new theatre.

    GuoGuang has the right conditions to perform Lord Guan plays. National first-class laosheng actor Tang Wen-hua is not only well-versed in different types of old male roles that specialises individually in singing, acting and martial arts, but also adept at red-faced roles. His talents are peerless in today’s Taiwan theatre. He played four characters in Conquest of Wu. And his performance as the leading actor in Ascension of Lord Guan to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the National Theatre in 2007 was sensational. GuoGuang’s director Wang Kou-chiang studied under Li Tung-chun, dubbed the “Living Lord Guan” of the last century, at early ages. He is conversant with Lord Guan plays and the present piece. With such masterly performer and director, I feel confident to create the piece, and that it will fulfill its worshipping and purifying functions at any theatres.

    This is the second collaboration between Zuni Icosahedron’s Artistic Director Mathias Woo and GuoGuang. Woo was stage and digital image designers in our first project together, The Picture of 18 Lohans, and adds the role of director this time in Lord Guan Yu on Stage. I am fond of his works and have admired his digital images since he and Edward Lam joined hands to bring performances such as Who’s calling Eileen Chang? and Eighteen Springs to Taiwan. For the present Lord Guan play, he has invited a German motion capture designer to join the creative team with the aim to create an imagery that is both traditional and modern.

    All was ready save for one key factor: Lord Guan Yu on Stage was all ready, but there had been delays in the construction of the new home of GuoGuang. The piece was premiered at the Cloud Gate Theatre in Tamsui in August 2016 instead, followed by a run at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre later that year. I did not expect a call for re-run in Hong Kong this year and am grateful for the many critiques that gave suggestions and encouragement to our first run in Hong Kong. I hope the performance will continue to take place on different stages and evolve from an opening ritual into a tour by Lord Guan to bless different theatres with peace.

  • Mathias Woo
    July, 2016

    In a winter about 12 years ago, Danny Yung and I travelled to Nanjing to meet Master Shi Xiaomei for the first time. The meeting was arranged by composer Qu Xiaosong, who had just collaborated with Master Shi on a cross-cultural operatic performance. Master Qu thought that Master Shi had an open mind on experimental theatre and thus introduced us to her. The meeting culminated in a series of Chinese operatic experiments. Twelve years have flown by since then. Over these years, I have created a total of seven theatrical works in relation to traditional Chinese opera, with the first being a Kun opera entitled Sigmund Freud in Search of Chinese Matters and Mind, followed by Good Wind Like Water, The Forbidden City, A Tale of The Forbidden City, 1587, A Year of No Significance and Eighteen Springs (tanci).

    The first piece was inspired by the concept of dreams in The Peony Pavilion and brought forth a series of experiments on traditional Chinese opera and Kun opera between Master Shi, Jiangsu Performing Arts Group and me. Around that time, Master Pai Hsien-yung had also launched his project The Peony Pavilion. Our works made interesting contrasts: Master Pai’s production was refined, sumptuous, and classical, while ours was a mere artistic experiment. Thanks to Master Pai’s production, Kun opera caught the attention of the society and gained popularity in the general public. That was an important development. When I first got in touch with Kun opera, I could not help but contemplate the future development of traditional Chinese opera. As I dug deeper into Kun opera, I realised the learning process of traditional Chinese opera is indeed a precious gem in the world of performing arts. Its art is not only about its form, but about drawing out the functions of each part of the human body during the learning process. Every part goes through training. Hence, those who have received training in traditional Chinese opera can participate in many other performing art forms, such as dance and drama. Successful movie and television artistes, such as Jackie Chan, who made great achievements over the past few decades have also received traditional Chinese opera training. But as sensory stimulations and entertainment are in ever-increasing demand, I worry that traditional performing arts will die out. As pop and consumer cultures replace traditional arts and culture, pretty looks take over from learning processes in performing arts, and one can excuse oneself from being professional on stage by claiming “learning by doing”.

    Although traditional arts may decline due to consumerism, there is neither much progress in popular culture, nor in film and television drama, nor in breeding prominent artistes. “People” and their performances did not seem to have benefitted much from the large amount of investments Mainland China has made in film and television. Therefore, the artist-centered approach in traditional Chinese opera seems especially precious and important in this era of tasteless consumption.

    Over the past 12 years, I have conducted two types of experiments on traditional Chinese opera. On one hand, “Revival”, I have tried to revive the original features of Kun opera by, for instance, keeping the number of performers and musicians to a minimum, and presenting the natural voices of the performers without amplification. On the other hand, “Innovation”. I have tried to merge traditions with new media, including digital images. The two types of experiments are equally important and go along with each other. After all, these are two major forces to push art forward.

    Lord Guan Yu on Stage was my first attempt at Peking opera. The script by Master Wang An-qi has brought out a Lord Guan that is both very traditional and different from the past. Direction of Wang Kou-chiang has established a tradition that is based on Peking opera in the performance of Lord Guan. And without the lead performer Tang Wen-hua, this play would not be the same. This is a genuine performance with genuine performers. What chemistry will this genuine performance and new technology spark? Let’s wait and see.

    “Lord Guan” is an icon for the Chinese. This icon transcends class, transcends sectors, transcends religion and transcends art disciplines. Lord Guan is worshipped by both the civil world and the underworld, by politicians and businessmen. Lord Guan is everywhere, he is in the popular mobile game Three Kingdoms, young people in Hong Kong are so obsessed about, a lot of Japanese are fans of both Lord Guan and the Three Kingdoms. Lord Guan is converted into different images and figures in various forms and poses, and his looks are constantly changing in comics and video games.

    Lord Guan is a classic in Peking opera, and he is the patron god of Peking opera. The Lord Guan on stage transcends the military and singing roles. The image of Lord Guan on stage is strictly Lord Guan, with every second, every breath and every move purely Lord Guan. The red of Lord Guan, the green of Lord Guan, the yellow of Lord Guan, the black of Lord Guan and the gold of Lord Guan, they are all solely Lord Guan. Lord Guan is beyond tragedy, beyond melancholy, beyond all the typical roles. Lord Guan is not the popular modern anti-hero of today, nor is he the villain playing the virtuous politician. Lord Guan is a model for Chinese men, and all Chinese men should be like Lord Guan, with compassion and loyalty, and should not be an opportunist or a smooth talking slicker.

    Tragic heroes are more heroic than other heroes, and Chinese culture and history are both built on tragedies. That said, China has become a tragedy that is even more tragic, that has even more tragic elements than an ordinary tragedy over the past 100 years. The century-old Xinhai Revolution has become reason for self-denial and cultural genocide among the Chinese. More or less, traditional art practitioners of the present era need the Lord Guan’s tragic spirit, meaning that they need the same audacity. Traditional art needs to change indeed, and it is impossible for it to stay the same. The questions are: how? In what way? What is the essence of traditional art? The essence of traditional art is people. People are the root of traditional art. To learn traditional art is nothing like downloading a mobile app but bringing all the latent energy of each body part into full play. Expressions in the eyes or on the face, contours of the body, and the voice, loud or low, constitute the body as a whole, one that is truly in its own control. Contrary to today’s art that draws lines between different body parts, traditional Chinese opera provides infinite potential for experiment and innovation. When machines and technology become increasingly dominant in the unknown future of the humankind –

    What is the value of a human being?

    What is art of the humankind?

    What possibilities are there between the humankind and technology?

    What has art become?

    These are questions we continue to ponder on about the future of Chinese opera and art, as always.

  • Peking Opera Director-Wang Kou-chiang

    On Performance of Lord Guan: An Interview with GuoGuang’s Peking Opera Director Wang Kou-chiang
    Text / Chen Hong-ye

    When it comes to Taiwan’s Peking opera in the old days, actors were often named by their fans “Living So-and-So” after the roles they had brought to life. Master Li Tong-chun, Living Lord Guan Yu, and Wang Fu-sheng, Living Zhang Fei, were two of the iconic figures.

    GuoGuang’s veteran directors Wang Kou-chiang and Ma Pao-shan had studied Chinese opera under the two masters from the age of six. Master Li was the captain of the Tai-yuan Chinese Opera Group at the time. Wang recalled that Tai-yuan, as a small group, was not strict with the differentiation of role-types. The children would take up whatever roles there remained, and thus had to learn all types of plays. In addition, the group’s repertoire was on a rather masculine side. The most frequently-played were Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Justice Pao, and Water Margin. Wang had himself played a large array of roles, including wusheng (martial male), wujing (martial painted-face), and wuchou (martial and clown painted-face). The learning process enabled the juniors to observe the senior performers closely, expand their scope of performance, and gain extensive knowledge unknowingly over time.

    As Peking opera had become less popular in the mass entertainment market, opera groups were bound to disband. Tai-yuan was the first, followed by Lien-chin. Changes in the groups brought personnel changes too. Some left the groups, some left the profession and others took up teaching positions. Persistent young people like Wang Kou-chiang found opportunities to move from the crowd of soldiers in the background to the side of Lord Guan, becoming first the coachman to do somersaults and dives to build up the atmosphere before Lord Guan strikes a pose, then Zhou Cang, the role who breathes fire, who knows every word and move of Lord Guan by heart, balancing his impetus.

    At that time, the young Wang had the chance to play against Master Li and Master Wang. Veterans were not without attitudes, but that came from their dedication to art. According to Wang, “Master Wang performed in a deadly strict way”, which means that everything, from the pace, spoken lines, postures, to the interaction between two characters must stay strictly the same. “The first time I played against Master Wang was in Reunion at Gucheng. Not only would I meet Lord Guan, but also Zhang Fei. Master Wang would only explain the scene to me only once, and I was supposed to know what to do. There would not be any rehearsals between that and the actual performance.” The scrupulousness of the veterans had taught the young man about commitment to theatre art details should be tended to in the right way, artistry has to be upheld without compromise, and manpower is not an excuse to neglect details. Before Peking opera completely dropped out of the mass entertainment market, the young Wang gained a spot in a prime time programme of China Television together with the veterans. Master Hu Shao-an played Liu Bei, Master Li Tung-chun Lord Guan, Master Wang Sheng-fu Zhang Fei, and Wang Shao-zhou Zhou Cang in The Oath of the Peach Garden. Television drama series based on the Three Kingdoms caused so huge a frenzy that commemorative stamps were issued.
    “Listen, Little Kou-chiang, as a painted face, be very masculine in a masculine role, and be tenderer/more feminine than a female character in a feminine role. It’s easy for your facial expressions to be drowned in the complex colours on your face. Emotions must come from within for the audience to sense them.” Director Wang recalled how meticulous his teacher Wang Shao-zhou was when he passed him the role of Zhou Cang. And he remembered how the teacher’s performance imbued him with fine artistic sense.

    The most common Peking opera plays about Lord Guan include The Battle of White House Hill, Crossing Five Passes, Reunion at Gucheng, Meeting the Enemies Alone, A Meeting by the River and Drowning the Seven Armies. Lord Guan has a captivating presence on stage, and his performance in Conquest of Wu is a real classic. The piece embodies the freehand spirit of traditional theatre fully. It offers many highlights as performance by the actors is coupled with the personalities of the roles. It is not uncommon for actors to play 2 or 4 roles. In addition, to meet the needs of today’s audience, The Battle of White House Hill is often performed to entertain the soldiers in garrison. This play is especially useful to boost the morale of the troops. The beginning sees Yan Liang, the powerful general in Hebei, in a flamboyant performance style, killing extensively; next, Lord Guan makes a crispy appearance. Complemented by the coachman, he makes stylised gestures and movements to indicate he is riding a horse. He is in control of the pace, be it fast or slow. He handles masculinity and gentleness in a balanced manner. Stalwart and strong, the character Lord Guan evokes admiration from the watching soldiers, making it the best entertainment for the soldiers

    As Lord Guan became an important folk belief, his stage representation turned increasingly transcendent. Ghost stories and myths arising from performance of Lord Guan had become popular chitchat topics in rural areas. All sorts of customs emerged over time. For instance, the actor to play Lord Guan must have his head and face shaved; talking is forbidden backstage; the actor wears a broken face as a respectful gesture; and firecrackers are lit when Lord Guan makes his first appearance in an outdoor theatre.

    Despite the many years Wang had studied under Master Li Tung-chun and seen him enact the life of Lord Guan, he had never seen the master play Ascension of Lord Guan. Why is it so? Is it a taboo? Wang replied with a smile, “Ascension of Lord Guan is a taboo? Not at all. It’s a pay-play.” In the old days, a troupe owner who lacked cash to pay his staff would put on this best-selling show near the payday to draw audience. Then he would have money to pay his troupe members and worry no more. If so, why wouldn’t the Living Lord Guan perform this play? “The story started with the relationship between the troop and the troupe. The generals used to think that the artists should play upon their requests. Some were civil and respectful to the artists, others were domineering and thought that the artists should be in service whenever they were called for,” Wang explained. While the generals were full of themselves, the artists were no less in their principles. For that reason, Master Li was firm about not performing the play. Embarrassed, the generals thus ordered a ban on the play.

    From man to god, Lord Guan the military saint is revered by the whole troupe. Even Master Li had a shrine for Lord Guan at home. Yet, are there so many taboos? Maybe yes, maybe not. Or maybe, there are more taboos in interpersonal interactions than elsewhere.

    After all, there is one thing we can be absolutely sure of that the difficulties in enacting Lord Guan are real. We can catch a glimpse of the difficulty and uniqueness of Lord Guan plays in the emergence of the “red-faced” role-type. The role-type is laosheng, wusheng, jiazi hualian (character painted face) and different roles in one. It demands a wide range of qualities, including a majestic bearing, gestures and movements and singing, in addition to a disposition unique to Lord Guan. Master Tang Wen-hua of GuoGuang is one of the very rare performers who are competent to play the character, who are able to unite a traditional, solid and guileless interpretation with a moderately experimental, contemporary meta-drama. Lord Guan on Stage is a piece that is worth watching.

    Aria Arrangement (Peking Opera)-Lee Chao

    A 20-year-long Heroic Ordeal and its Musical Representation
    Text / Lin Jien-hua

    Lord Guan is one of the greatest figures in the Three Kingdoms period. The role has a stern and godly disposition, and a steady performing style in Peking opera. As such, variations in the types of metre and mode employed by the role in his music are relatively fewer and simpler. There are very few classic arias for the role in traditional Peking opera. The relatively prominent ones are those in the excerpts “Qun Jie Hua”, “Huarong Trail” and “Reunion at Gucheng”.

    For the vocal design, I have found it difficult to give a full account of Lord Guan’s 20-year-long heroic ordeal according to the plot with the traditional Xipi-Erhuang mode. Thus, I have adopted elements from Peking opera, Kun opera and folk songs to create music for the piece that is traditional and classic as well as daring and innovative. I hope this synthesis will give Lord Guan a new musical representation that speaks the spirit of the time.

    From the prelude to the epilogue, I have formulated the music and singing to match Lord Guan’s musical voice. That said, I have done exactly the opposite in certain parts on purpose. For instance, I have substituted the thematic blowing tone in Reunion at Gucheng with a bridge, which is not only fitting but also pleasant and refreshing. I have also replaced jinghu by suona as the music instrument as we shift from Kun opera to xipi-erhuang to add to the grandeur and image of Lord Guan.

    As this is a joint production with a Hong Kong art company, it was necessary for us to rehearse and record our music earlier than usual for the collaborators in Hong Kong to work on the overall musical design. Pressed for time, our orchestra worked extra hours over a weekend for the recording. I am especially indebted to Hsu Chia-ming on jinghu, suona, and helping to notate scores during rehearsals; Lin Chieh-ju on flute, suona and sanxian; conductor Hsu Chun-hsuan on erhu and letting me do the conducting work; the percussionist handling three instruments at a time; and sound engineer Lee Szu-ming and his assistant. As said, “A good anvil does not fear the hammer”, all the GuoGuang musicians spared no effort in the two-day battle. I admire their dedication and team spirit tremendously. I pray that the audience will appreciate their hard work, and be supportive instead of critical. They are the first Peking opera orchestra in Taiwan to have achieved state-level performance, and they are my comrades-in-arms!

    Thanks to lead actor Tang Wen-hua and director Wang Kou-chiang, the rehearsals were turned into real deeds. I am very pleased to have assigned Hsu Chia-ming, a new talent, to play jinghu for the lead actor, who has provided serious and great advice in return. Lin Chieh-ju, our new principal flutist, has supported the Kun opera parts with strong and steady rhythm and a delicate sound. Her contribution has been crucial.

    Chin Yen-Long is one of Taiwan’s most renowned percussionists, and has been my collaborator for nearly 20 years. In this production, he was required to complete the initial recording without any music and acting, and to keep pace with the pre-recorded music and singing accurately while maintaining the whole performance in control during the live performance. His technical skills in the whole recording process were superb. New yueqin player Chen Pei-chien has made great progress since her debut performance with us on March 19, and has won much attention and acclaim from both the professional circle and the public. Li Jing-min on daruan and Chiang Chung-ying on zhongruan are both top musicians in Taiwan and Mainland China. With all the musicians’ extraordinary skills, what could have taken four days was accomplished in two, nicely and properly. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the orchestra members.

    This will be another challenging, cross-disciplinary production in my professional career so far. I am excited to see this new collaboration between director Mathias Woo, music director Yu Yat Yiu and composer Nerve. I look forward to joining hands with them to create a new work that merges traditions and modern stage technology and art.

Back theatre

Lord Guan Yu on Stage


Tickets available on June 30 at URBTIX