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Peking Opera sings venue’s praises

New theater hopes to bring back audiences

The mandarins of Peking Opera are hoping that a state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar opera house in downtown Beijing will give the art form a shot in the arm and help reverse a trend of dwindling auds.

The Mei Lanfang Grand Theater, named after the legendary Peking Opera star, is running a series of performances through Dec. 22 to inaugurate the venue.

The theater, located in the downtown Xicheng District, cost $14.7 million.

“Most of the tickets will be low priced to attract more audiences,” Wu Jiang, president of China National Peking Opera Company, told the Xinhua news agency.

“The theater was designed to hold 1,100 people because we want to lower the cost to enable more audiences to watch quality performances for less money,” Wu said, bemoaning the fact that auds and the number of performances are declining, as is the number of performers and young people wishing to practice the art.

National Peking Opera troupes should respond to the market and innovate onstage, Wu added.

The new theater is bigger than the Changan Grand Theater, which is currently the biggest venue for traditional opera with seating for 800.

Peking Opera blends a highly stylized form of singing, poetic dialogue, some comedy, kung fu fighting and acrobatic stunts.

There were once 40 opera houses in Beijing, but most were closed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and dwindling auds make it difficult for companies to survive as Peking Opera loses ground to musicals from the West, DVDs and other popular forms of entertainment.

Earlier this year, the Guanghe theater, where Mei Lanfang used to perform, was knocked down, a victim of development.

In 2004 there were 90 Peking Opera troupes, according to figures from China’s Ministry of Culture.

Their combined income was less than $6 million, and they are massively subsidized by the state.

The China National Peking Opera Company has entrusted a Beijing-based firm with the theater’s management to give it a professional edge and make it commercially viable as well as artistically successful.

The Mei Lanfang theater will also be used for other types of performance, such as dramas and musicals.

“With its advanced facilities, the Mei Lanfang Grand Theater has made it possible for Peking Opera to utilize modern technologies to add stage art and lighting effects and give more imaginary spaces for new plays,” Wu said.

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