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January 8, 2017

Teochew iron-stick puppet performance

After a long pause, I was eventually able to watch Teochew iron-stick puppet performance again. The show was performed by the last active Teochew iron-stick troupe, Sin Ee Lye Heng (新怡梨兴) at Hoon Sian Keng Temple (云仙宫).

The Teochew iron-stick performance is usually marked with a rather long music prelude, for about 25-30 minutes. The main puppeteer arrived early to set up the puppets, here's a snapshot.

                     Preparing for performance, note that the puppeteers are seated on the stage

Musicians backstage
Yes, you are not dreaming. The suona is played by a 12-year old :) 

The first part of the performance comprised various ritual preludes that lasted from 11.30am to 12.40pm. Performers and musicians paused for an hour break before starting the actual performance at 2.30pm (half hour music prelude before).

The performance is titled "Story of Lianxiang" (莲香戏鞋). I have decided to translate without taking into consideration of the 'shoe' in the Chinese version because I did not chance upon any shoe in the show (for Teochew opera fans, please correct me if I am wrong). This is a classic supposedly performed since the 1960s and was adapted from Liaozhai (聊斋) or Tales of the Strange. The protagonist Lianxiang is a thousand-year old fox spirit who arrived to the mortal world and not long after, she fell in love with a mortal named Sangsheng (桑生). 

Lianxiang, the fox spirit and her lover Sangsheng

While you may expect a happily ever after story for this pair, the story has not ended. It turns out that Sangsheng has a marital engagement with Li Wan (李纨) but the latter passed away before they could have the formal wedding. Even as a ghost, Li Wan was still very much in love with Sangsheng. She decided to come to the mortal world to see Sangsheng, disguising as a friend of Lianxiang. 

Li Wan wept as she could not believe her fiance already had a new lover

The furious Lianxiang charging at Li Wan

Even though I had difficulty understanding the singing and dialogue at times, I could sense the rapport between the puppeteers and musicians to create a spectacular scene. Sangsheng fell very ill, and although Lianxiang was angry, she decided to request help from the various deities, including Guanyin

Lianxiang begs Guanyin to help her lover Sangsheng 

Guess what will happen next? This will be continued in my next post, I promise it won't take too long.     

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