One fine day, perhaps, "Goddess of the Green Ripples" will be as familiar to Kennedy Center audiences as "The Magic Flute." Currently, the Peking Opera's repertory has the appeal of something exotic. People who have little tolerance for shrill and percussive pieces of modern Western music are applauding and chuckling at the falsetto arias and militant instrumental crescendos of this Chinese theater form that was crystallized in the last century. Of course, spectacle -- the elaborate costumes and vivid acrobatics -- helps in winning acceptance for those things that might otherwise grate the sensibilities or seem incomprehensible.
Last night, the premiere of the second of four different programs that the Peking troupe is presenting during its two weeks at the Opera House was again a smorgasbord of scenes from three different works. The opener, "White Snake," is a love story with a pugnacious side, as a noble woman fights deer men and bird men for the sake of her husband. Zhao Huiying, as the woman, not only sang plaintively, enunciated clearly and mimed elegantly, but performed the most purely balletic attitudes and arabesques seen so far from these visitors. If her line was suspiciously Western, the use to which it was put was not. Huiying used her raised foot to ward off her enemy's weapons.
Combat more than courtship, serves as the motive for most of the dancing in Peking Opera. "The 3-Forked Road," the program's mid-piece, is an extended acrobatic pas de deux/trois based on the conceit that the adversaries are fighting in total darkness. Last night, like two summers ago at Wolf Trap, this work was fascinating for its many variations on the theme of missed contact, but ultimately it became repetitious. As a Westerner, one missed choreographic development.
"Goddess of Green Ripples" was the big production number starting with and underwater ballet and culminating in a fight and storm scene that used the stylized agility and gymnastic virtuosity of many performers. Love was expressed in the highly pitched arias that the goddess -- elegantly mimed, voiced and danced by Zhao Yanxia -- sang to a poor scholar, performed by Liu Xuetao, a senior actor of great presence.
Peking operas mix the subtle and obvious, and place realistic details, as if they were jewels, into stylized settings. In terms of these generalities, and such specifics as bird men, they are akin to "The Magic Flute."