Soul singer Joss Stone sang Teochew opera in S’pore

Nick Shen Weijun and Joss Stone acted as husband and wife in The Reunion.
PHOTO: The New Paper

He remains single in real life, but he was lucky enough to be "married" to English soul singer Joss Stone for an evening.

Former actor Nick Shen Weijun, 40, and the 29-year-old Grammy award winner played a married couple in an excerpt from Teochew opera The Reunion.

Stone's two-hour Teochew opera lesson was shot in Swatow Restaurant for a yet-to-be-titled documentary for the singer's ongoing Total World Tour, where she immerses herself in different cultural experiences.

The Reunion tells the story of Chinese scholar Lv Meng Zheng, who is separated from his wife Liu Cui Ping but sends for her to join him in his official residence after he becomes the top scholar in the imperial examinations.

Shen, founder and creative director of Teochew opera troupe Tok Tok Chiang, told The New Paper over the phone on Wednesday that he was delighted to have shared the stage with Stone.

"It was my first time acting with a Caucasian person and I was honoured to have such a talented artist as my 'wife'," he said.

Stone attended the Teochew opera lesson with her boyfriend, concert promoter Si Chai.

Said Shen: "Her boyfriend wasn't jealous of us playing husband and wife.

"He enjoyed the performance and even took photos with us."

Shen was full of praise for Stone for taking to Chinese opera like a duck to water.

"Teochew opera is very challenging. It's tough getting the pronunciation of the Teochew dialect right, even for native speakers," he said.

"Plus new people often get stage fright.

"Joss was a very fast learner. Although her Teochew was not smooth, she did her best.

"Her passion really showed and she had so much stage presence, she was not shy at all."

Stone had been in town in March for the Sing Jazz festival and at her Sing Jazz press conference then, she had mentioned the Teochew opera lesson with Shen and expressed her excitement about it.

In a separate interview with TNP after her press conference, she said: "As a singer, opera is amazing to me. It's like, wow, how do they do that?'

"And Chinese opera is a whole other kettle of fish, it's very traditional and cool.

"At first, I felt confused that Chinese opera is a big thing in Singapore because, to me, China and Singapore are two different places.

"But now I've learnt that Singapore is made up of a different influences, including Chinese."

Shen said Stone was delighted with her Teochew opera makeover, complete with traditional headgear, costumes and red-and-white make-up.

"Joss was especially fascinated by her hair because we used a very traditional, handmade stick-on fringe for her."

Shen also said Stone found the gestures accompanying the Teochew opera singing challenging but she tackled them with gusto.

"She had to learn how to synchronise her eye and hand movements, and move her water sleeves in a graceful, flowing manner," he said.

"She learnt how to do the opera steps by walking very slowly, with paper sandwiched between her thighs.

"I think she did very well and looked like a professional performer."

DEDICATED

Shen, who is dedicated to promoting Teochew opera in Singapore and beyond, is excited to introduce more young people and foreigners to it.

Tok Tok Chiang performs on most Friday evenings at Swatow Restaurant and conducts Teochew opera workshops in primary and secondary schools. It also organises events with partners like National Heritage Board and National Arts Council.

Shen added: "Joss is warm and humble, it was a pleasure meeting her. She said she would let me know if there are opportunities for cultural performances in England in future."

He added that Westerners can be more open than Chinese people in learning about Teochew opera, which can be enjoyed by all races.

"I hope that with the release of Joss' documentary, more young people will be interested in Chinese opera after seeing it repackaged in a different way," he said.


This article was first published on October 22, 2016.
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