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News Highlights

The legend of pirate Zhang Baozai reflected in original chamber opera for Shanghai Expo (with photos)

Musica Viva and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) Alumni Association will have all hands on deck for their brand new chamber opera for Expo 2010 Shanghai China (Shanghai Expo) based on the life of legendary pirate Zhang Baozai.

"The Legend of Zhang Baozai" is set to capture the imagination of audiences when it premieres on August 20 and 21 for Shanghai Expo.

The chamber opera will be performed at the Drama Theatre of the Shanghai Grand Theatre as a Hong Kong SAR cultural programme for Shanghai Expo.

Comprising seven scenes, the production focuses on the life of pirate leader Zhang Baozai. The Qing Dynasty-era story begins in 1807 when Zhang's mentor Cheng Yi, leader of the formidable Red Flag Pirates, was drowned at sea during a typhoon.

Zhang is selected to succeed Cheng as pirate leader and gradually develops romantic feelings for Cheng's widow Madam Shi.

The story continues with their close encounters with Admiral Sun and his wife Lady Duanmu, whose father, a renowned herbal doctor, was imprisoned for healing Madam Shi.

Subsequent scenes feature the conflicting relationship between Zhang and the Qing marines and Zhang's growing reputation for audacity and skillful tactics. He was known to be kind to the indigenous people while inflicting merciless acts on Mandarin officials and imperialist foreigners.

The scenes are full of original music and dances interwoven with an array of colourful traditional festivals and local customs. Dynamic action, entertainment and comic relief are introduced in scenes such as the spring lantern festival, the Cantonese opera puppet show, the Bun Festival and the fire dragon dance.

The singers, dancers, musicians, designers and production specialists in the opera are all graduates of the HKAPA.

Zhang's role is played by acclaimed tenor David Quah while mezzo-soprano Melody Sze plays the part of Madam Shi. Other principal artists include soprano Margaret Yim, baritone Albert Lim and tenor Wong Chi-chuen.

Composer and conductor Professor Lo King-man said the opera is a unique production.

"Dance scenes are designed to bring about contemporary representation of Hong Kong's traditional festivals with strong local characteristics. Dances are presented in a modern style merged with traditional Chinese movements and gestures," Professor Lo said.

"The music, an original composition in contemporary style, combines the western classical approach with strong Chinese musical idiom, rhythmic patterns and tone-colours.

"The instrumental ensemble combines traditional Chinese instruments with a western string quartet and percussion."

Professor Lo explained that "Chamber Opera" is a specific term referring to a particular style of opera which has a long history dating back to the late 16th century when opera was first introduced. It is traditionally performed on a small scale in a relatively compact venue and composed for a relatively small group of performers. Many opera connoisseurs regard Chamber Opera as more artistically refined and inspiring.

Professor Lo said: "We hope 'The Legend of Zhang Baozai' will be appreciated as an original creative work integrating fine music, singing, drama, dance and effective story-telling into a unified artistic whole.

"We believe that the knowledgeable audience in Shanghai will recognise the artistic intent of this work which aims to stimulate, educate and give pleasure."

For full programme details and ticketing information, please visit the Event Calendar section on Hong Kong's Expo website, www.hkexpo2010.gov.hk .

"The Legend of Zhang Baozai"
Date: August 20 and 21, 2010
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: Drama Theatre, Shanghai Grand Theatre
Length: Approx 1 hour 20 minutes
In Putonghua with Chinese and English subtitles
Ticket prices: RMB 220, 180, 120
Booking hotline: (+86 21) 6386 8686
Online booking: www.shgtheatre.com
Programme enquiries:
(Musica Viva) (852) 6976 2877
(Shanghai Grand Theatre) (+86 21) 6386 8686