​Guo Lanying: Legendary Folk Opera Performer

China Plus Published: 2019-09-25 15:33:39
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The file photo shows Guo Lanying performing on a stage during a show in Beijing.[Photo:VCG]

The file photo shows Guo Lanying performing on a stage during a show in Beijing.[Photo:VCG]

China's National Honorary Titles are awarded to 28 prominent citizens in various fields for their great contribution to the country's development. The titles include People's Scientist, People's Artist, People's Hero and People's Role Model.

To continue our series on the Republic honor laureates, CRI's Guo Yan has the story on the legendary folk opera singer, Guo Lanyin, one of the awardees, whose music recorded some of the significant moments of the history of the People's Republic of China.

The 90-year-old folk opera performer and vocalist performed one of her masterpieces "My motherland" at this year's mid-autumn festival gala. Guo Lanying has made enormous contributions to China's folk music and music education. The vocal artist has left an indelible mark with her masterpieces of music and classic characters in various folk operas and movies.As a music educator, she also helped establish the folk opera performance system and played an important role in developing traditional Chinese vocal arts.

She has spent her whole life in the art of folk music and opera, establishing herself as a household name in China. She's extinguished herself with a unique style of singing from traditional folk opera that originated from her hometown Shanxi province.

Qiao Yu is a renowned Chinese songwriter and he recommended Guo Lanying to perform his masterpiece"My motherland". He believed Guo was the only artist who could precisely deliver the core message of the song.

"I told them to ask Guo Lanying sing the song. The first time I heard her audition, I decided she's the right one. She sang exceptionally well indeed. She's an amazing singer. She knows the art and has a perfect voice. She is a real singer of folk music of the country. She's number one in the profession."

From a village girl born in an impoverished family to a widely-recognized folk song artist, Guo says her life was deeply intertwined with the fate of the country and the founding of the People's Republic of China changed her destiny.Guo recalls her miserable childhood in 1930s when she was sold to a local opera troupe at the age of nine.

"My family was extremely poor at that time. My parents could barely eke out a living. They sent me to a theatre troupe where I had a bitter time and was often beaten and punished by the head of the troupe."

After years of rigorous training, she gradually gained popularity and became a rising star for traditional Shanxi opera at 13 years old.In 1940s, Guo got reunited with her mother with help of a troop from the liberation Army and joined a cultural troupe of the Army.During her time there, she learned to read and write.She also picked up the skills of script writing and artistic creation which allowed her to express true feelings and empathy for common people instead of confining to the life of aristocracy. Thereafter, She regained complete freedom from the local troupe to which her parents sold her.This also marked the start of her more than glowing life-long career.

In the 1960s, Guo's superb acting skills and unique style of singing gained wide recognition across the country. And her success in folk opera was such a phenomenon at that time that even then premier Zhou Enlai became one of her loyal fans.

"I still remember the words by beloved premier Zhou. He told me to not only master the Chinese national art but also learn to appreciate cultures and arts from other nations. I gradually changed my mindset and found that true arts touch people and are borderless. "

Renowned tenor Liu Shiming of the China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre has worked with Guo Lanying for several decades, co-starring with her in many classic plays.He describes Guo as an exceptional artist who profoundly influenced his career.

"We are old partners. We worked together for over 50 years. I used to study stage play at the Central Academy of Drama. I started my career in opera because I have a good voice. But there are a lot of differences between the two genres. Thanks for the cooperation with Lanying, the transition of my career went smoothly. She's a great teacher. With her instruction, I mastered the art of traditional drama and was deeply inspired by her exquisite performances."

"Nanniwan" which was written in 1930s became a hit in 1964 when it was recreated and put on stage by Guo Lanying.

"I walked on the stage to get familiar with the environment. And I rehearsed it only once before the opera was officially put on stage."

Nanniwan which is now a popular red tourist destination was a revolutionary base in the 1940s when China was in an arduous war to resist the Japanese invasion.The song depicts the massive production campaign launched by the Communist Party to help residents through difficulties during the war by developing agricultural production and boosting economic growth. It soon became critically acclaimed in China and sent Guo's career to a new high. This masterpiece has been widely sung for over half a century and it's still popular even today with many young singers playing cover of the song.

When she retired from her singing career, Guo Lanying started running an art school in Guangzhou and decided to devote the rest of her life to music education. This enabled her to cultivate more talented performers for the national art.

Like many of her peers of the time, Guo struggled through extreme poverty, a miserable childhood, and survived the threat of death during the war.Guo Lanying's strong personality and extraordinary talents helped her, and like many of the recipients of the honorary titles, she finally realized her dream with the turning of the brand new page of the country.

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