Yue opera and mooncake-making workshops

Acclaimed opera singer Qian Huili (left). Folk singer Zhang Hong Li (left) is among the performers at Moonfest.
Acclaimed opera singer Qian Huili (above).PHOTOS: THE ESPLANADE

From the hearty folk songs - composed to rally rugged northern Chinese warriors to resist foreign invaders - to the gentle, lilting strings of guzheng music inspired by China's rolling plains and rivers, audiences will be treated to a vast repertoire of music created by Chinese musicians through the ages at the Esplanade's annual traditional Chinese arts festival, Moonfest.

The festival kicks off with the Shanghai Yue Opera House staging of Couple Wings, a production about the famous Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin who must choose between his love for a beautiful woman, Wang Yunyan, and loyalty to his best friend, Linghu Tao.

In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times, veteran opera singer Qian Huili, 53, who plays Li in the opera, says the script's depth gives the production a lot of tension as the characters face many dilemmas.

"On the surface, Li is torn between friendship and love. But in reality, everything he does is a test of his ethical bottom line."

She adds: "I'm constantly discovering more about this story."

Qian and fellow actress Wang Zhiping, who plays Wang, are long-time acting partners and winners of the Plum Blossom Award, the highest theatre accolade in China.

  • BOOK IT / MOONFEST - A MID-AUTUMN CELEBRATION

    WHERE: Various locations, The Esplanade, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Sept 9 to 11, various times

    ADMISSION: $25 to $88 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Go to www.esplanade.com/moonfest

The duo will return to the stage on the festival's last night to perform six excerpts from classics such as Butterfly Lovers, the legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai; and Chasing The Fish Spirit, a romance between a fish spirit and a Confucian student.

Qian says: "I was just a young woman in my 20s when I performed in Singapore in 1987. I believe our artistry has matured compared with 30 years ago and I look forward to reviews from the audience."

Guzheng player Ji Wei, 36, who is giving her first solo recital here, will present eight works ranging from the classic to contemporary, curated in line with the Mid-Autumn Festival theme.

One of them is a piece she collaborated on with Chinese virtuoso pianist Lang Lang, titled At Night On The Lake Beneath The Maple Bridge, which was well-received when it was released on Lang's 2006 studio album, Dragon Songs.

  • HIGHLIGHTS

    Couple Wings by Shanghai Yue Opera House

    Award-winning opera singers Qian Huili and Wang Zhiping star in this Yue opera production set in the late Tang dynasty, about a scholar who has to choose between his love for a woman and loyalty to his friend.

    Where: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    When: Sept 9, 7.30pm

    Admission: $25 to $88 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    Ji Wei Guzheng Recital

    Virtuoso Chinese guzheng player Ji Wei, known for marrying the traditional Chinese instrument with Western musical stylings, takes on classical and contemporary works.

    Where: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    When: Sept 11, 5pm

    Admission: $35 from Sistic

    The Magic Lantern by Paper Monkey Theatre

    This children's theatre production is based on a Chinese folk tale about Chen Xiang. The offspring of a human and deity, he embarks on a quest to rescue his mother who has been imprisoned under a mountain.

    Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    When: Sept 9 to 11, 10.30am and 2pm (Friday); 2 and 6pm (weekend)

    Admission: $22 from Sistic

Ji, who has recorded several albums and is an associate professor at China's Central Conservatory of Music, says: "One can learn to appreciate the beauty of Chinese traditional music and guzheng through education and being immersed in the music over a long period of time."

A younger generation of under-30 Chinese folk singers such as Du Peng Peng, Chang Yan Ni and Zhang Hong Li will evoke the spirit of their homeland in a medley of folk songs.

Du, 28, comes from northern Shaanxi, central of the sprawling Loess Plateau in north-west China, which was a revolutionary base for the Communist Party of China. Some of these songs were written as a call to peasants living there to take up arms against Japanese aggressors, he says.

"In northern Shaanxi, people's happiness, anger, sadness and joy are all expressed through folk songs. Whether you're standing atop a mountain, walking along its winding paths or travelling on the plains, you will be able to hear melodious voices in the wind," he adds.

The festival also promises to be a family-friendly one, featuring a children's theatre production and activities such as workshops for parents and children to learn about Chinese opera and make mooncakes.

Festival programmer Desmond Chew says: "Over the years, Moonfest has garnered loyal fans and we continuously engage new audiences, especially the younger generation and young families with their little ones, so that they have the opportunity to learn more about traditional Chinese arts."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Yue opera and mooncake-making workshops'. Print Edition | Subscribe