scan, black-and-white, original source: photograph, black-and-white
Mei 1997: Mei Shaowu 梅绍武. Yi dai zongshi Mei Lanfang 一代宗师梅兰芳 (A master of his time: Mei Lanfang). A pictorial album. Beijing: CBS, 1997:46., Heidelberg catalogue entry
Mei Lanfang, modern-themed operas, opera reform, May Fourth Movement, Jiang Qing, tradition, modernity, revolutionary operas, Chinese opera
The origins of Revolutionary Opera: Mei Lanfang performing Women's Emancipation (Mei Lanfang 梅兰芳)
The opera reforms that have been one crucial element in the making of Cultural Revolution Culture were not unprecedented: In the 1920s already, it was discussed how best to express, in Chinese opera, realistically, the different characters’ different emotional states and how it might be necessary to adapt and change aria styles and diverge them from the fixed melodic modules and patterns established traditionally in order to create psychological realism in a manner we have seen put to practice in the revolutionary operas.
The female impersonator Mei Lanfang himself had always been very impressed with the innovations which Shanghai brought to Chinese opera and began to integrate them in his own operatic styles. As one of the first actors he used the potentials of film for the propagation of his operatic art. Jiang Qing, with her filmed versions of revolutionary operas can be seen in a straight line of descendance from this early practice which, due to her own youthful experiences as an actress in Shanghai was of course well familiar to her.
Mei Lanfang would also be one of the first to introduce an extension of the “traditional” opera ensemble, too, adding a lower huqin 胡琴 next to jinghu 京胡, yueqin 月琴 and percussion. He would perform operas in contemporary costume as seen in this illustration, and he would rewrite the pieces he performed so they contained sections in colloquial speech and not just in difficult rhymed yunbai, in order to be able to better serve the education of the people (another novelty continued in the revolutionary operas). Mei Lanfang, too, was convinced of the changeability, the reformability and the revolutionary power, i.e. the political function of Chinese opera. See also DACHS Continous Revolution.