Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Legend of the Purple Hairpin | Fuji X-Pro2

During my regular photo walks in New York City's Chinatown, I chanced upon another poster advertising a forthcoming Chinese (Cantonese) Opera at the Chinese Community Center's theater on Mott Street. Naturally, I booked my seat, and attended its featured show titled The Legend of the Purple Hairpin.

All the front and center seats were booked (at $100 each, I suppose that the show's sponsoring businesses and VIPs got them for free and/or at a discounted price), but I secured a front row aisle seat at the side...not ideal, but it gave me the freedom to move should I need to. I chose to use my Fuji X-Pro2 and the Fujinon XF 18-135 F3.5-5.6 OIS WR (the equivalent of a 28-200mm) to give me the reach I would need.

The Fujinon XF 18-135 F3.5-5.6 OIS WR is my least favorite (and least used) Fuji lens because of its aperture limitation. However, I found that its OIS (Optical Image Stabilizer) compensates for this limitation quite well, and from my previous experience at the same venue but for a different show, it performed to my satisfaction.

The Legend of the Purple Hairpin is a classic. It was written by Tang Xianzu (1550 –1616), a Chinese playwright and dramatist of the Ming dynasty. The dramatist’s four masterpieces – The Peony Pavilion, The Legend of the Purple Hairpin, The Story of Handan and The Dream of Nanke – are collectively known as The Four Dreams of Yuming Tang, and are still staged regularly by operatic troupes today.

The Legend of the Purple Hairpin occurs during the Tang Dynasty. A young scholar, Li Yi, is told that a pretty young woman admires his poetry. She is a courtesan named Huo Xiaoyu. On the evening of the Lantern Festival, he picks up a purple hairpin that belongs to Huo Xiaoyu, who falls in love with him at first sight, and gives him the hairpin. They hold an informal wedding on that same evening.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
However, a high court official’s daughter has a chance meeting with Li Yi on the night of the Lantern Festival and she too falls in love with him. She begs her father to arrange a marriage, so she can marry Li Yi however the latter refuses. The father, Official Lo, then sends Li Yi to the frontier as punishment.

In Li Y's absence, Xiaoyu’s livelihood becomes harder as days go by. She stops being a courtesan after the marriage, so she has to rely on pawning her jewelry to support her family, including her purple hairpin. When Li Yi returns from his frontier posting, Official Lo detains him in his house in order to force him to marry his daughter. The hairpin is bought by the Lo family for their daughter’s wedding to Li Yi.

Xiaoyu is eventually helped by the yellow-robed the Fourth Prince who is under the Emperor’s instructions to investigate Official Lo for treason, and arrests him. Li Yi’s and Xiaoyu’s mutual love for each other are rewarded, and they are able to be formally married.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved (Stylized Image)
At the end of the 5-1/2 hour show, I was invited on stage to photograph some of the actors, and had a short one-on-one portrait session with Ms Yan Wu "Camille" Shuang (燕無雙) who portrayed Official Lo's daughter. I wished I could have had much more of such sessions but understandably, the actors were exhausted after this marathon performance which not only involves the acting itself, but the preceding make-up session, changing into various costumes and wearing heavy headgears.