Journey of an Opera (6) – The Tale of Lady Thị Kính, Act II: Grandeur Closing

The Tale of Lady Thị Kính Creation Series

Digital art work by Hoàng Ngọc Biên

The final shape of PQ Phan’s creation is a two-act ten-scene opera.

Act II, Scene 6 – In the Vietnamese version, right after the affair, there is a gathering of the villagers for the trial of Thị Mầu’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Because Thị Kính, or Tiểu Kính Tâm the young monk, has been out of the picture for a while, plus she has not had a chance for reflection, Phan created this new scene simply to introduce Sư Cụ, the Head Monk, and give Thị Kính an opportunity to express her thought about her future. At this point, Thị Kính is not sure what the consequences of Thị Mầu’s flirting would be to her. Neither does she know about the affair between Thị Mầu and Nô, the Servant, but she fears something is going to happen. So at the end of the scene she and Sư Cụ sing about the future in the way of hope but not knowing what the future will be.

Act II, Scene 7 – The original chèo has Vợ Mõ, the crier’s wife, and Lý Trưởng, the Village Chief, appear and go on and on for a long time, to the point the audience may lose interest. With Western mentality, this 20-minute passage of word playing between them is not that funny and has nothing to do with either Thị Mầu or Thị Kính. Phan cut this scene down to 9 minutes and keeps it there to retain the comical function of chèo.

Act II, Scene 8 – The trial is on. In chèo version, there is a slight indication of villagers and a chorus. However, they have only a line or two, then mainly the singing of Tiểu Kính Tâm/Thị Kính, Lý Trưởng, Sư Cụ, Thị Mầu. Phan found the potential of this scene to be similar to one when Thị Mầu goes to the temple to flirt with the monk. So he elevates the function of the chorus, adds more text and turns the villagers into more mean, more ruthless, more hypocritical individuals. They would say one thing and do another. Ultimately, the reconstructed scene becomes a satiric one about the power of money over morality.

Act II, Scene 9 – Sư Cụ kicks Tiểu Kính Tâm out of the temple. On her way out, she finds an abandoned child under a tree and takes him in. She then goes to the market to beg for food to feed the baby. Phan only revised some wording to enhance the intensity of the situation.

Act II, Scene 10 – In the chèo version, the marketplace is very simple. Also, Tiểu Kính Tâm sings that “he” is weak and the child is old enough so he is ready to leave this life, then dies leaving a letter to explain. Sư Cụ finds the baby, reads the letter, then has an altar erected to worship “her.” There is only one line saying Buddha invites her to heaven. Phan finds this last scene to be mono-dimensional and a let-down. After creating so many fascinating details throughout the opera, the peasant creators must have been too tired in the end to give it an explosive ending. Phan decided to take the pressure onto himself to make the last scene a blast. If anything at all, the last scene should be the most impressive to the audience so that when they come home, what they should remember is the last scene. That said, Phan reconstructed every single detail.

The marketplace without villagers is not the market. To create the sense of the market, Phan has Tiểu Kính Tâm/Thị Kính sit there to beg, and villagers pass by mocking and spitting on her. They also throw things at her and leave without giving her anything. This span of time gives Tiểu Kính Tâm enough time to lament about “her” imminent death.

When Sư Cụ goes to the market and finds the baby and Tiểu Kính Tâm’s body, he picks up the letter to read. Instead of having him read the long letter himself, Phan decided to have Thị Kính read it herself. The reason for this is that the Vietnamese version lets Thị Kính die as a man but does not create an opportunity for her to turn back into a woman. By having Thị Kính singing the letter, Phan gives her an opportunity to re-transform into a woman again, and to show evidence that she is in nirvana now to tell the story to everybody.

At the same time, as Thị Kính is telling her story, it is a chance for every character to come back on stage. There, they confess their sins and seek reconciliation and forgiveness. Together, they glorify the holiness of Thị Kính. A grandeur closing for the opera is here to stay.

***** The Vietnamese version of this article has been published by the Vien Dong Daily News, also available online here.

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