- Chinese Opera: The Actor’s Craft by Wang-Ngai Siu with Peter Lovrick
Chinese Opera presents a total of 227 exquisite photographic images of Chinese opera by Wang-Ngai Siu, a Hong Kong–based photographer and a veteran aficionado of the art. The photographs as a whole testify to Siu’s nearly three-decade devotion to the operatic form—the dates of the images range from the early 1980s to 2010. With introductory texts written by Peter Lovrick, the photographic representations are arranged in a thematic order and displayed in six chapters. In addition to chapter 1, which serves as a general introduction, each of the remaining five chapters is concerned with one particular aspect of the operatic performances, namely, stage movement, props, weapons and stage fighting, costumes, or special skills. Specific information about all of the 227 photographs, including opera types, opera and scene titles, names of the troupes, featured dramatic characters, names of the actors, and shooting dates, are listed in tables in English and Chinese in the appendixes of the publication.
One of the limitations of previous English-language publications on Chinese opera is the fact that the great majority of them are preoccupied with a very limited number of forms, such as Beijing opera, Kun opera, and Cantonese opera. This is unfortunate considering the fact that Chinese opera as a comprehensive theatrical form consists of more than three hundred national and local genres. In this sense, the book is genuinely exceptional because it not only includes the internationally recognized operatic genres such as [End Page 225] Beijing opera and Cantonese opera but also regional genres, such as Hebei clapper opera and Sichuan opera, whose artistic experiments on the contemporary stage are of great historical importance but are less well known to audiences outside China.
My only reservation about the book is the co-authors’ privileging of the “traditional plays” (chuantong xi) over the “newly created historical plays” (xinbian lishiju) and the “modern plays” (xiandai xi). In addition to the fact that only a limited number of the “newly created historical plays” are included, it is unfortunate to note that the “modern plays,” which are set in the modern and contemporary period and a main thematic type of Chinese opera, are generally not represented in the book.
In general, Chinese Opera is a riveting publication for general readers who are interested in Chinese theatre and culture. For those who teach Chinese theatre at the college level, the book offers superb photographic supplements to any textual and audiovisual materials.