Subject: Day 2 of Cert Seminar - Song Dynasty Opera - Part 1

We have just completed the Certification Seminar – everyone passed the exam. So we have 5 new Guild members and our first graduating class in China! Guild Certification Seminar number 145.

The class average was a 95% on the test. Everybody studied quite hard during the evening between day one and day two to prepare themselves for the test.

The wine and food pairing lunch on the second day consisted of several Chinese dishes, including smoked duck, ham, fish, and beef, as well as cheeses and other foods.  Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the plates.

Per their request, I added a brief demonstration of basic sommelier service to the agenda on the afternoon of the second day of the Seminar so they could begin practicing.

I will include a picture of the graduating class in a later blog after I get a copy for Dr. Lim.

After the seminar was completed Dr. Lim, Jane Soon and I went to the Hangzhou Song Dynasty Cultural Center to see the Song Dynasty Opera.  The Center was a cross between going to Disneyland and a carnival.

The Song Dynasty existed between, roughly, 970 AD and 1270 AD.  During that period the capital of China was Hangzhou.  The Song Dynasty Cultural Center was a replica of a few buildings of the Royal Court of the Song Dynasty. 

It was during that period that the West Lake was constructed – it is a man-made lake and very famous throughout Asia. Actually, there is not a travel book you can buy on China that does not mention the West Lake – it is almost as famous as the Great Wall of China. About the time it was being constructed, Marco Polo was ‘governor’ of the city of Hangzhou.

Tomorrow is my day off and they are taking me to the West Lake as well as the Hangzhou silk market.

The opera consisted of several vignettes of myth and history about the Song Dynasty or and the City of Hangzhou.   It has been favorably compared to a great Vegas show, or even a Paris show.  It was very much like a Vegas show – except in Vegas the costumes would have been considerably more skimpy.

The music and songs were a combination of traditional and modern Chinese, while the staging was truly amazing. I was quite surprised to discover they allowed the audience to take pictures during the show so I took more than 50 pictures with my iPhone, it did a better job than my digital camera.

Picture 1: an example of one of a series of several vignettes of court life during the Song Dynasty.  The Emperor is seated at the center of the back of the stage while dancers from all countries paying tribute to the Emperor perform. In this picture the dancers represented Thailand. Dances representing 3 or 4 different countries were represented in a non-stop series of vignettes with changing music and costumes.

Pictures 2 through 6: This vignette was the longest and represented the war that brought to an end the Song Dynasty. In picture 2 cannons rose out of the left and right hand side of the stage to lay siege to the palace – firing blanks, but making a great deal of noise. As you can see they came up out of a stage pit quite close to the audience.  (We had second row seats – so had a great view.)
Picture 3: The battle rages, a little blurry but real horses are being ridden across the back of the stage in front of the backdrop of a burning palace, while the prince and his elite guard try to protect the palace.

Picture 4: The prince and all of his guard are killed in battle. The prince is at the front of the stage, on his knees, having been shot by an arrow.  To simulate this, arrows were shot from above the stage into the pad you can see at the very front of the stage.  The actors with the lanterns, who were basically invisible (the eye could not see them – the iPhone could pick out individuals better than you could see them) were weaving lanterns of light moving back and forth across the stage represented ‘Chinese angles?’ to take the Prince and all his troops to purgatory.

Please remember I am getting this story as it is being translated in very brief bits during the show – so what is told me may not be exactly correct in terms of correctly explaining the myths.

The Prince wants to go back to earth to be with his new bride and must go through several Chinese hells to get there.

Picture 5 shows the ‘cold hell’, where it is snowing on stage. This scene occurred not more than 15 seconds after the scene in picture 4.  A very brief black-out (maybe 5 seconds) and they were standing, or rising up off the stage where they had laid dead, in a driving snow. The Prince is the one already standing.

Picture 6 shows the final meeting of the Prince with the ‘Chinese devil’, the devil is on the raised platform – the prince is the actor directly to the left of the Devil with his arm outstretched (right next to the edge of the cape of the devil).  Alas, the prince does not meet all of the requirements to return to earth – the devil wins. Apparently a classic sad Chinese ending to the story.

Picture 7 is the next scene, 30 seconds or so after the Devil sinking slowly back down below the stage. Another 5-10 second black-out and the stage now represent the West Lake – with the front half of the stage converted to a pool of water.  It was also raining on the pool of water, representing spring on West Lake. 

The dancers with the bright green parasols represent the lotus plants – with the parasols representing the leaves of the lotus. The lotus is the official flower of Hangzhou. The backdrop shows West Lake with overhanging willow trees.  The pink flowers are lotus blossoms.

Picture 8 shows the key scene of the myth of the white snake that lives in West Lake.  In this picture the white snake, in the form of a beautiful lady, and her best friend, the green snake – also a beautiful lady in the myth, have a chance meeting with a prince (it’s always a prince in these stories) on the famous Broken Bridge, which spans a small part of West Lake.

However, the love is not to be, and in the myth the white snake is captured and held under a Buddhist Pagoda – where (according to the myth) she is still held.  The Pagoda is on the shore of the West Lake – it was built about 980 AD.

The Prince and the White Snake were each standing on half of a bridge. The two halves moved towards each other to center stage to form the complete bridge – the symbolism told everyone in the audience (except me – of course they had to explain it to me as I was not familiar with this myth) that they were standing on the ‘Broken Bridge.’ It was very clever staging.

The Broken Bridge is so named because in the winter time, when it snows in Hangzhou, the top of the bridge gets covered in snow to a depth that you cannot see the top of the bridge, making the two ends touching shore to no longer be connected to each other or ‘broken.’ The bridge is also 1000 years old, however, it has been updated so many times that it now carries cars, bikes and electric scooters across it.


Pictures 9 and 10. These two photographs also represent very important scenes in the seasonal cycle in Hangzhou.  Slide 9 represents the workers picking green tea.  The green tea from the City of Hangzhou is considered the best in China.  Only about 2% of it actually grows in the City today, but that 2%, per ounce, is more expensive than an ounce of gold.

Slide 10 shows dancers dressed as lotus blossoms. Again, the lotus is the official flower of Hangzhou.  At the first ‘traditional’ meal I was served, a couple of days ago, we had glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf – the leaves are 2-3’ across.  Really big.

It really was a terrific stage show.

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