January 12, 2009
My friend Dave at Haji Maji posts the best vintage Chinese opera in town, but I thought I’d present another from my own collection. Before I prepped this track, of course I went to Dave and his helpful translators for assistance, and they came through with even more information than I had hoped for.
There are always some barriers when trying to find out information on old records besides what might seem the most obvious barrier: language. There is no giant resource in a library somewhere that contains everything you’d need to know about record label activity in all the continents, dates of releases, or perhaps more importantly, the style and history of some of the music itself. A huge portion is a secret history. In the case of the rich and long history of Chinese opera, about which I know only a smattering, I am grateful for any information anyone can give me, or directions to be pointed in.
This is an example of Wai Jiang Opera (also known as Gua Gang, or Goa-Kang as it’s spelled on the label), which is related to Teochew Opera, popular in Southeastern China. Wai Jiang was popular with elites apparently, and generally tends to be about heroes, battles, and the like. This piece seems to be Part 1 of a finale in a 13-part opera translated as “The Execution of Wei Hu.” The Wei Hu of the story is the second brother-in-law of the famed Tang Dynasty general Xue Ren Gui. In short, Wei Hu tried to sabotage his brother-in-law’s rule, and this excerpt is the confrontation and subsequent killing of Wei Hu, at the hands of Xue Ren Gui.
It’s a wild and wonderful piece, apparently typical of Wai Jiang opera, with classic examples of blood-curdling screams, the everpresent clashing gongs, and soft, delicate interludes. Thanks to reader ChrisZ, we know it was recorded ca. 1926-1927 by engineer Max Birckhahn, likely in Singapore. Xin Tian Cai Ban, the troupe performing the opera, was from Chaozhou (aka Teochew) in Guangdong Province, and was popular during the very early part of the 20th century.
Many thanks to Dave Murray and Ms. Javier Li Yong-En of the Thau Yong Amatuer Musical Society.
Issue Number: 17-1 (6)
Matrix Number: 26371