Guildhall School opera strengthens ties with China

Guildhall School strengthens CHINESE ties with new opera
exchange of culture: The Wager comes to London Photo: Zu Zhongren

The year 2015 brought with it a surprise second term for the Conservative Party, Princess Charlotte, the 5p charge for plastic bags, and the first ever UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange.

The programme of exhibitions, festivals and forums was part of a campaign by the Chinese and British governments to encourage greater cultural exchanges.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD) and the Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Group.

The two institutions have since collaborated on opera galas, performing arts forums, Shakespearean-inspired sonnets, and now Wen Deqing’s original contemporary Chinese opera The Wager, which makes its UK premiere at GSMD on 26 May.

Described as a “Faustian story of luck, temptation and fate”, the opera is based on Gao Xiaosheng’s novel A Gamble on a Snowy Night. The story opens on New Year’s Eve and follows Zhao, a squire, and his intrigue with a beggar who appears in rags seeking alms.

It will be only the third time the opera has been performed outside of China following a debut at Geneva’s Amadeus Festival almost 15 years ago, having been performed extensively in Beijing and Shanghai ever since.

Deqing said he drew inspiration from centuries-old Chinese art forms using a combination of traditional instruments and staying true to the complexity of the Chinese language, “a one-syllable language with four different tones for each sound.”

Nonetheless, he maintains the tale itself transcends national borders, inspired by “an allegorical story which may happen to anyone, at anytime, anywhere in the world.”

Guildhall musicians will tackle the piece alongside singers from the Shanghai Opera House for the two performances, which the school’s principal Lynne Williams described as “a fruitful and stimulating experience”.

“[We are] delighted to welcome the Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Group to London for this residency in what is another fantastic opportunity for the school to further develop its cultural ties with China and to make a significant contribution to cultural exchange in this way,” she said.

GSMD has done more than its share of heavy lifting in fostering the UK’s artistic ties with China, beginning with the Opera Connect Gala of classical and contemporary operatic excepts at Shanghai Grand Theatre in April 2015.

This was followed by the Sino-UK Performing Arts Forum at the China Shanghai International Arts Festival, focusing on creating stronger performing arts synergies between China and the UK, a follow-up to the UK-China arts and education forum hosted by the school and the Barbican in 2009.

Later that same year the school announced a major new partnership with the Central Academy of Drama, Beijing, to deliver a joint Bachelor’s Degree in Acting Studies for Chinese students.

Shanghai Grand Theatre Group president Madame Zhang Ming said the programmes have won “high acclaim” in China, and the collaborative ties look set to get stronger.

“The Wager is atonal with unusual intonation,” she said. “Performances of this co-production by Shanghai Opera House and the Guildhall
School in London will help promote the sustainable culture exchange between our two countries.”

The Wager is on at Silk Street Theatre on 26 and 27 May at 7.30pm