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Chinese artist recreates Hamlet in traditional opera

A traditional Chinese opera retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet has proved a hit in New York City.

Zhang Jun, the Chinese opera star and UNESCO Artist for Peace, performed his re-imagining of the tragedy in ancient Chinese prose, with a few spoken English words, and sung in classical Chinese Kunqu opera style.

“This performance commemorates the 400th anniversary of English playwright William Shakespeare and Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu,” said CGTN correspondent Liling Tan in New York. “It also pays tribute to the 600-year history of the Kunqu opera style.”

“In China, people know more about Tang Xianzu‍. In the West, London or New York, people know more about Shakespeare,” said Zhang Jun.

“Today, I heard people saying that they were savoring the flavor of the show. They found it very interesting. I think it’s most intriguing that a Chinese performance can bring people closer to Western literature classics. To me, being interesting is important.”

Co-presented by Asia Society and the China Shanghai International Arts Festival, the play premiered in Shanghai in October, and played to audiences in London in December.

Rachel Cooper, director of global performing art at Asia Society, said: “When I was in Shanghai for the festival, this was one of the real highlights. One-man show exploring all these emotions of all of these characters and being able to transcend the work of one person and really encompass the full world of Hamlet was incredible.”

Audiences in New York were just as riveted. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I think it was very well done, and his English was excellent when he was quoting Shakespeare’s ‘To be or not to be’,” a spectator remarked.

With the merging of Kunqu, Hamlet was shaped in an oriental exotic style and provided audiences with a unique visual experience.