‘Raining Petals’ is the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s fresh, modern production of ‘Floral Princess’, blending new western music and Chinese opera together
It might seem like a bold decision by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (HKPhil) not to host a Christmas concert this month. But Lio Kuokman, the orchestra’s resident conductor, says he is whipping up something equally magical: Raining Petals, a re-imagining of one of the most well-known Cantonese operas, Floral Princess, by Chinese scriptwriter Tong Tik-sang.
Taking place on December 23 and 24, Raining Petals features new music by Taiwanese composer Lee Che-yi, who won Taiwan’s Golden Melody Awards’ Best Composer category in 2012 and Best Creation category in 2016. Accompanied by new prose and screen projections of excerpts from a 1959 film version—starring famed Cantonese opera duo Yam Kim-fai and Bak Sheut-sin—of Tong’s 1957 creation, the show promises to be an audio and visual feast that celebrates the 65th anniversary of the opera’s premiere.
Above A poster of Floral Princess featuring Yam Kim-fai (right) and Bak Sheut-sin (Photo: Courtesy of HKPhil)
Tong’s original production is based on the true story of Princess Changping, the eldest daughter of the last Ming dynasty emperor. In the opera, when the rebel army invades Beijing, she escapes the palace and lives as a nun. She reunites with her prince consort and together they offer themselves as hostages to the new emperor in return for her father being given a proper burial and the release of Ming dynasty’s crown prince. When the Qing emperor fulfils his promise, the couple commits suicide on their wedding night.
Over the years, this tragedy has been adapted by a slew of composers, filmmakers and theatre companies. Lee says Tong’s production stands out because of the composer’s poetic lyrics and melancholic music that capture the characters’ pain and helplessness. Rex Ng, the director of Raining Petals and chief executive of Utopia Cantonese Opera Workshop, a local charity that promotes and organises workshops on modern Cantonese opera, adds that Tong’s work was given a further stamp of approval when Yam and Bak, who were already celebrated artists, accepted the lead roles.
Above From left: Bak Sheut-sin; Yam and Bak (Photo: Courtesy of HKPhil)
Floral Princess premiered in 1957 in Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay and received rave reviews. Two years later, it was adapted into a film, and the songs were recorded for an album in 1960, bringing the story to the attentional of the general public. Stars such as Liza Wang, Leslie Cheung and Charmaine Sheh have since performed the songs or appeared in productions based on Tong’s work, adding to the