An Opera Never Fades
   2013-01-02 14:29:20      Web Editor: Guo Jing


Click to listen to Lanzhou Guzi's "Interlocking Stratagems" performed by Chen Zengsan and his fellow partners. The story tells of Wang Yun, interior minister at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), who designed a series of stratagems to alienate warlord Dong Zhuo and military general Lv Bu.

Chen Zengsan and his fellow partners perform a piece of Guzi called "Interlocking Stratagems" in Lanzhou, Gansu province, on December 8, 2012. [Photo: Jing]

Floating out melodiously with deep, subtle strength, Lanzhou Guzi opera attracts you from heart to soul. It tells love and historical stories, and tells of happiness, sorrow, joy and anger.

Dating back to as far as the early Qing Dynasty, Guzi, the local opera in Lanzhou, northwest China's Gansu province, has been passed on from mouth to mouth for about 400 years.

As a traditional local art, Guzi is performed with Chinese instruments with the sanxian (a three-stringed plucked instrument) as the main accompaniment. Other instruments are the erhu (a two-stringed bowed instrument), dulcimer (the only western instrument used in Guzi), pipa (a plucked four-stringed instrument with a fretted fingerboard), and a xiao (a vertical bamboo flute).

Lanzhou Guzi has 10 tunes, with each one consisting of about 2-3000 characters.

This local opera tells classic historic stories and novel-rearranged stories covering every dynasty of Chinese civilization. It is usually performed at home for family entertainment and in a teahouse for its lovers. Teahouses always provide with cigarettes and drinks for listeners to relax and enjoy this traditional music.

Guzi has a large number of audiences in the rural areas where entertainment programs are not rich or varied.
"During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the whole family sat together in the yard and sang Guzi almost every night to forget hunger and fear," said Wei Shifa, inheritor of Lanzhou Guzi at a national level.

Influenced by their father and grandfather, Wei and his five brothers all like Guzi. He deeply loves the art and takes it as part of his life. In order to sing accurately and emotionally, he practices the tune of each character hundreds of times.

After starting performing in his twenties, Wei achieved great success and named as an inheritor of Lanzhou Guzi at national level in 2009.

Though it once enjoyed massive popularity in Lanzhou, Guzi never goes outside Lanzhou and has very few professional performers. "Now only about 300 people can sing Guzi and the average age is 65," Wei said, expressing his worry.

As pop music sweeps the world, "fewer people like traditional opera and many young people even never heard of Guzi. Besides, the Lanzhou Guzi Protection Base receives only a 5,000 yuan fund annually, very far from the basic need to develop Guzi," said Wei.

He continued that members of the protection base even have to collect money by themselves to buy a new radio or repair the instruments. They have no chance to perform outside Lanzhou due to lack of money.

Wei himself has cultivated three apprentices and all of them can perform on the stage now.

However, to boost the cultural heritage and absorb more young people to know, love and learn Guzi, Wei hoped that the government can give more financial support. Thus, they could hold classes for Guzi lovers and especially cultivate young talent.

"One hundred students are enough. Because they can influence many other people who can also introduce Guzi to more people and even foreigners", said Wei.

Chen Zengsan, inheritor of Lanzhou Guzi at the provincial level and a professional sanxian player, expressed his opinion on protecting Guzi.

"Few people listen to and learn Guzi because it's too long and too difficult", explained Chen, "so I rearrange the too long prelude and add some gestures and tools for the performance. Costumes and make-up should also be improved."

On the dark stage at the protection base, Chen Zengsan and his fellow partners performed a piece of Guzi called "Interlocking Stratagems". All the performers were in their 60s. Their voices float from the stage and never fade.

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