Monday, 1 January 2018

Beyond The Frame | Qinqiang Opera | X-Pro2

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I've immersed myself (not totally...but let's say, up to my waist) in documenting Chinese Opera in its various forms since mid 2017, but have found the project to be daunting because of the complexity of that ancient art form, its diverse types/styles, because of its thousands of tales and because I don't speak or understand Mandarin and/or Cantonese.

Notwithstanding these challenges, I started to read on the various types of Chinese opera, and during 2017 attended and photographed various performances in New York City's Chinatown (Cantonese), in Kuala Lumpur (Hokkien) and in Shanghai (Qinqiang).

It is a Qinqiang performance in Shanghai that's the subject of this Beyond The Frame blog post.






The premier venue for Chinese opera in Shanghai is the Yi Fu Theater on Fu Zhou Lu Road near People's Park. It was known as the largest theater in the Far East, and no opera actor or actress could achieve fame until they performed at the Yi Fu Theater.

The opera for September evening was 'The Unicorn Purse" (锁麟囊/Suo Lin Nang) which was written in 1940 by Weng Ouhong (翁偶虹). It can also be translated as 'The Qilin Purse'....Qilin being a mythical creature of good omen, and purses embroidered with its likeness was meant to bring luck and good fortune to brides at their weddings).


The opera is one of the most popular. It tells the story of two brides who cross paths on the day of their wedding, but have very different fates.

The 1000 seat theater was almost full, but being in the front row (albeit to the side) meant that I could photograph at will without any issues. I saw that a handful of photographers had already set up their cameras on tripods in the aisles, but as I didn't have one I'd have to do all my shooting from my seat.

The stage was very well lit, changing with the mood and plot of the performance. The actors seemed to be very popular with the audience, and even to my untrained eye, seemed to be extremely professional and well trained. The costumes were gorgeous, and no expense seemed to have been spared.

Technical details: X-Pro2 + 18-135mm F3.5-5.6R OIS. f5.6. iso 1000. Spot Metering. Date: 2017-09-06 at 5:00 PM (Shanghai time). Post Processing using Color Efex Pro 4 (Darken/Lighten Center Filter).

Despite its OIS, the Fujinon 18-135mm (27-200mm 35mm equivalent) is my least favorite and least used lens, but for performances such as this, it's very useful because of its range and truth be told, it sort of delivered. Perhaps if it was faster, I would have had a higher success rate. 

I shot almost 800 frames (RAW) during the performance, and captured around 30-35 images that I believe make the final cut....so a success rate of just over 4%.