Centuries-old Peking Opera undergoes a modern makeover

China 24

Peking duck is known the world over, but Peking Opera is slowly fading. One Chinese performer is trying to change that, however, by giving the centuries-old tradition a modern makeover. And audiences are applauding.

CGTN’s May Lee reports from Los Angeles.

A quiet suburban home in Los Angeles is the last place you would think to find vibrantly dressed young Kung Fu artists honing their craft, and one of China’s most famous Peking Opera stars rehearsing.

Chu Lanlan is getting ready to perform her distinct, more contemporary style of Peking Opera. She first tried her innovative method in 2003, breathing new life into a tradition that was losing its audience.

Lanlan compares the difference between her new method and the old.

“Traditional Peking Opera is like a mahogany chair, a Chinese relic,” she explained. “You may not feel comfortable when you sit on it, but you appreciate it and want to preserve it. New Peking Opera, you also feel comfortable when you sit down, but we add padding and back support, as well as western style decoration, so it has a more ‘new era’ feel.”

Chu Lanlan debuted her unique new style in 2005, after noticing audience interest in Peking Opera was fading. She was inspired to try something new, but not everyone else was on the same page.

“Many asked questions like, ‘Did this actress come on the wrong stage? How come she’s performing Yueju Opera, but not Peking Opera?’” she said.

Reviews were mixed. She received both the highest and lowest scores from judges. It was a bold move, as she was the only who had tried something so new and risky. Some experts, though, agreed this kind of innovation was needed.

In the end, she was rewarded.

Since taking her initial leap, Chu Lanlan has become one of China’s brightest and most popular opera stars. Last year, she performed for U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Forbidden City.

The young artist recently performed in Los Angeles, and is planning to return to the U.S. for a much bigger and grander tour. She hopes to help keep the new Peking Opera at the forefront of Chinese culture by introducing it to more audiences worldwide.