The concept of Shakespearean and Kun Opera styles emerging together on stage in order to showcase, visually, the real creativity of their times, is an exciting and deeply interesting idea, and one arguably immensely challenging project for which the creator should be applauded just for embarking on the endeavor.
The setting for “A Lover’s Duet” in Nanjing’s Yu Theater was undoubtedly pleasant; it had a nice layout and was a very comfortable place in which to watch the show. As the performance began, one’s first impression was that it would be very difficult indeed to get through the next forty-five minutes, as it was particularly difficult to understand, with the actors speaking in olde English (Shakespeare) and ancient Chinese. This lacked fluidity, and was hard to follow; thankfully, there were subtitles.
Unfortunately, Chinese Kun opera singer Ivy Chang’s voice was so low, one could barely hear her, so when Shakespearean actress Dare Norman began to sing, Chang’s voice became completely overshadowed. With Norman’s performance so beautiful and mesmerising, it took precedence for the two acts; perhaps this was not the intention.
Fortunately the play bequeathed some rather alluring parts, notably the way in which the two women interacted with each other, blending together, both speaking and singing in English and Chinese. Signts and sounds to behold. Indeed, toward the end of the performance it really began to develop into an enriching and heartfelt play.
Conceivably, the same plot could have been taken and worked in a way that stitched more fluidity into the story, as the language was so hard to follow. Subtitles were a saviour, but also a distraction to the magic happening on stage. Even though the idea was to compare and contrast different cultures, one couldn’t help thinking it needed more of this.
Love and heartbreak are collective languages, everybody knows what it means. We can feel it, and words are not needed for that; a beautiful thing to observe, especially seen from two women from different worlds, spoken and sung in two different languages.
Written and directed by Mr. Hao Yu from the Nanjing Gaokun Opera Company, this play represents a change in the times for Nanjing, a shift to a more culturally diverse and artistically driven immersion of our two parts of the world.