Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Beyond The Frame | Qu Hui | X-Pro2

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I was officially recognized as the photographer for The Shade of Butterfly & The Red Pear Blossom opera at the community center theater in NYC's Chinatown. It was the first opera of the season, and is one of the most famous Cantonese operas, and described as a masterpiece.

The plot centers on a scholar Yu-chow and the courtesan So-chow who write poems to each other and fall in love despite having never met. The scholar is attached to the court of a treacherous high official who schemes to keep the lovers at bay. The two lovers meet in the final act much to the delight of the audience.

I was introduced to Mr. Qu Hui, a mainland Chinese performer, who was to perform one of the lead roles in the opera, and also to sing a few more modern songs. A charismatic tall man, seemingly very comfortable in high heels, he posed for my camera for a few minutes before the show.

Cross-dressing has been an integral part of Chinese Opera from its beginning, but the number of males taking the roles of females has substantially decreased. China's "cultural revolution" (1966-1976) dealt a death blow to the opera, and along with it the nan dan (male acting as a woman). Although the 1980s saw a gradual revival, the nan dan remained in the shadows with the rise of women performers on the stage, leaving only about 10 male who specialize as such. Having witnessed the audience's reaction to Hui's performances, it's quite possible that he is one of them.

I read that the traditionalists believe that nan dan are irreplaceable, and they have characteristics and tricks such as specific hand gestures to make the hand look smaller and softer...wearing specially designed footwear meant to imitate women's bound feet...and, according to some, have better sounding falsettos given their wider vocal range.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved 
Hui's brought the house down when he performed Cantonese torch songs, wearing a tight fitting cheongsam and then getting off the stage to shake hands with members of the audience...including me. 

I made a quick recording of one of these songs in which he used a high pitched falsetto to mimic a woman's voice.


The technical details for the top photograph are: Fuji X-Pro2 + XF16-55mm f2.8. 1/100th Hand Held. f4.0. iso 400. Aperture Priority. Date: 2018.05.27 at 12:25:40 (NYC time). Post Processed Using Iridient Developer 4.

The technical details for the lower photograph are: Fuji X-T1 + XF18-135mm f5.6. 1/300th Hand Held. f5.6. iso 640. Spot Metering. Date: 2018.05.27 at 15:15:00 (NYC time). Post Processed Using Iridient Developer 4.