120th Anniversary of Mei Lanfang at Lincoln Center


Lincoln Center celebrates the 120th anniversary of the birth of one of the most beloved Peking opera artists, Mei Lanfang (梅兰芳 / 梅蘭芳), with three performances by his son Mei Baojiu (梅葆玖) and members of the Mei Lanfang Jingju Troupe of the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing (北京京剧剧团 / 北京京劇劇團) who would probably prefer that you call “Peking opera” by its Chinese name “jingju”.

On August 20 and 23, Mei and the company will present Classic Plays of the Mei School which includes performances of five operas

The Goddess of Heaven Scatters Flowers (天女散花)
Lian Jinfeng · Pierce the Mussel 
(谦锦枫 / 謙錦楓 · 刺蚌)
Resisting Jin Troops
Farewell My Concubine 
 (霸王别姬 / 霸王别姬) 
Drunken Beauty  (贵妃醉酒 / 貴妃醉酒)

Mei Lanfang in Drunken Beauty:

On August 24, the ensemble of 46 performers and 41 musicians will perform Lady Mu Guiying Takes Command (穆桂英挂帅 / 穆桂英掛帥), an opera about the legendary heroine who is part General of the Yang Family collection of stories which is also being told in the film Saving General Yang over at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Mei Lanfang, one of the Four Great Dan in the golden era of Peking opera, was known for his innovation and portrayal of female characters in Dan roles (旦).  His techniques were so important that they became the foundations of what became known as the “Mei School”.

Mei was well-known outside of China as well.  In 1930, he was the first to bring Peking opera to the United States.  His performances here and in the Soviet Union caught the attention of figures like Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Leo Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky, and Sergei Eisenstein.  Japanese scholars compiled reviews of his performances, and his production of Hongni Guan (‘虹霓关 /虹霓關) inspired a Japanese film.  Mei’s performances impressed German playwright Bertold Brecht and inspired his essay “Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting”.

During World War II, he refused to perform.  After persuading Mao Zedong not to ban the the traditional art form after 1949, Mei continued to teach in Beijing until his death in 1961.

He was good with his hands:

And everybody wanted to learn:

For more about his life and work, take a look at this CCTV English-language tribute which includes a three-part documentary.  CCTV also has an interview with Mei Baojiu.

August 20 and 23, 7:30 PM
August 24, 2 PM
David H. Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza
Tickets: $22 – $107