This tragic love story based on an historic event in the Tang Dynasty is beautifully brought to life in this production – but due to volume levels it can be difficult to appreciate the music properly. 

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Thank goodness I was give an opportunity to take a sneak peak behind the scenes before watching the China National Peking Opera Company’s production of The Emperor and the Concubine. So much of what the audience know about the characters and their status is showcased through the wonderful costumes used in this production.

It is the costumes and the presentation of the story that makes this production of The Emperor and the Concubine well worth watching as it charts their relationship from their first meeting to the tragic ending. Filled with gorgeous detail visually, the audience are effectively swept into the grandeur world in which they live, leading to some memorable moments including the emperor and the concubine being reunited at the temple, leading them to declare their everlasting love for each other.

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But the production also is extremely effective in the way in it tells the story, featuring beautifully poetic lyrics that really capture the love between the emperor and the concubine (even if at times the surtitles moved so quickly that it was difficult to read them all). The story is efficiently staged at a brisk pace that keeps it moving smoothly through the first act but means that during the second act, there is very little that happens and feels in the final moments to have been stretched to its limits – despite the beauty of seeing the emperor and the concubine being reunited in heaven.

It is consistently engaging to watch, with particular highlights including the impressively choreographed battle scene in which the cast impress with numerous astonishing acrobatics or the emperor and the concubine’s romantic duet following their falling out. Everything is over the top and dramatic, yet it is difficult to connect to emotionally and while the concubine’s sacrifice is imaginatively staged it doesn’t feel as though it hits the heart as it could.

This could be put down to the fact that the volume levels of the music and singing is extremely loud, meaning that the impact of what the cast are singing about can be somewhat underwhelming in key moments. Had the volume between music and singing been more balanced and softer it would have worked better overall.

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Despite this however, there is still plenty to admire about The Emperor and the Concubine, thanks to the strong and charismatic performances from all of the cast filled with plenty of personality as well as the gorgeous set design. It is a sheer spectacle that just needs softening down in terms of volume.

By Emma Clarendon 

The Emperor ant the Concubine performs today only (Saturday 20th October) at Sadler’s Wells. For more information visit: https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2018/china-national-peking-opera-company-the-emperor-and-the-concubine/

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐