Painted faces

By Raymond Zhou(China Daily) Updated: 2012-09-11

He is not immune to changes in popular taste, though.

He has a two-pronged strategy when it comes to safeguarding and rescuing this heritage. One is to preserve the so-called "museum pieces", the traditional repertory, and presenting them exactly the way they used to be for the sake of authenticity. Another way is to make them "cool", so to speak, to attract the younger generation more used to musical genres like hip-hop, rock 'n' roll, jazz and blues.

In the late 1990s, he adapted Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for Peking Opera. Unfortunately, forces beyond his control derailed the project, but Gefa has not given up yet.

Whenever he hears of someone staging the play, he will talk to the producers, asking if he can use Peking Opera for the fairies - the perfect vehicle for cross-genre experimentation, he says, because the play has three distinct groups of characters, and the fairies with their ethereal beauty are ideal for using Peking Opera as their mode of expression.

Gefa's core repertoire is made up of a dozen roles, although he also plays a lot of bit parts that allow him to expound the plot in English to a non-Chinese audience. His role as an English-speaking narrator who knows the intricacies of the art is growing as China promotes its culture around the world.

Thanks to his contributions to the art form, he received a lifetime award for "outstanding contributions toward cultural exchange", jointly organized by Phoenix TV andTianjinTV in November 2009.

Currently, Gefa divides his time between Beijing and California. The flourishing Confucius Institutes outside China often invite him to teach and demonstrate the art form. To take a "gem" like Peking Opera to the world, one needs bridges to link the two worlds.

"I consider myself such a bridge, just as some Chinese who go to the West can be bridges."

Unlike many experts who compare Peking Opera with Western opera, Gefa sees the Broadway musical as its closest equivalent, and he has a Broadway-style project in mind.

"I've been writing the songs, and I have the dance and the whole concept. But I'm still looking for sponsors, who are more likely China-based. We want to start in China and eventually reach Broadway."

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