Liu Xinran - Passion for Opera Inspires Weatherman

Weatherman-turned opera singer Liu Xinran plays Luoshen Goddess.

In January when Liu Xinran, 32, quit his job as an administrative clerk at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau to devote more time to play nan dan - men playing women's roles in Peking Opera - some people thought he was crazy.

After all, he was giving up an iron rice bowl for a career in a field where most start while still children.

But Liu's choice has been vindicated after being signed on by a Beijing theater company and on Oct 20, he will play the Luoshen Goddess in Mei Lan Fang Hua, a work reflecting the style of the Mei Lanfang School of Peking Opera.

"It was the boldest decision I have ever made, and I only dared take this step because of my interest in Peking Opera."

The nan dan, with a history of about 200 years, is an important element of Chinese opera as women were not allowed on stage until the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

"I never thought I would take to Chinese Opera as a lifelong pursuit. I used to think it was boring, its music unpleasant and its movements too complicated," Liu says.

However, in 2004, after hearing him at a karaoke bar, a friend, Zhu Ning, suggested he should try singing traditional Chinese opera pieces. Zhu's father was a fan of traditional opera.

Thinking it would help him sing popular songs better, Liu began to listen to and learn some short Peking Opera pieces.

But as he went deeper into the operatic tradition, he was struck by how graceful and melodious its moves and music were.

Lacking the formal guidance of a teacher, Liu relied on videos and recordings. He broke up the opera into numerous 2-minute segments, and practiced them over and over again.

After three years of such self-teaching, Liu participated in the Third National Contest for Peking Opera Fans, hosted by China Central Television. He not only walked away with the silver medal but also established himself as an amateur nan dan performer of some repute.

In January 2009, his story attracted the attention of director Lin Zhaohua, who was then working on directing Rabbit, a drama adaptation of a Lao She short story.

Rabbit is about an amateur Peking Opera performer, Chen, who is determined to devote his life to the opera - just like Liu. However, Chen succumbs to his bad habits and eventually dies of a drug overdose.

Stunned by the similarity between his life and that of Chen in the first part of Rabbit, Liu accepted the offer. The play called for three months of intense rehearsals and Liu needed to put in 11 hours of practice every day. It became clear that he had to do something about his job at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau.

Liu went to the bureau's head hoping for a three-month leave from work. When that didn't work out, Liu decided to quit.

Luckily, while rehearsing for Rabbit, Liu also received an offer to play the leading role in a Kunqu Opera, Two Belles in Love, set in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), about two well-bred ladies who fall in love and marry the same man, so as to stay together.

Liu played one of the lesbians, Cui Jianyun.

It was his first lead role in a full-length opera. He had to spend more than 12 hours a day in practice and by the time the show was staged in Beijing, Liu had shed 9 kg.

"But I told myself I would keep to my chosen path, no matter what the future brought," Liu says.


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