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Can something 600 years old still feel young? A collection of scenes from Kunqu, the Classical Opera of Globalized China.
In 2001, UNESCO declared kunqu, the 600-year-old grand opera of China, a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” The declaration not only affirms the artistic and cultural distinctions of the genre, which is known for its perfect blending of dramatic literature, soulful singing, and elegant dancing, but also creates a context for its revival in contemporary and globalized China. The genre is now enjoying a revival, attracting audiences inside and outside China with performances that judiciously blend classical stories and performance practices with contemporary staging interpretations and technologies. Kunqu is recognized internationally for being both authentic and yet fresh and updated. In its own way, it is similar to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s fresh, yet authentic, interpretations of classical English plays.
To experience kunqu is to encounter artistic and classical China interpreted for the globalized present. To experience kunqu is to see Chinese characters/roles, historical and contemporary, come alive on stage, revealing their Chinese emotions and values.
Performed with English supertitles.
“Qintiao” (Zither Seductions) from Jade Hairpin
“Huozhuo” (Captured Alive) from All Men Are Brothers
“Xiaoyan” (Garden Banquet) from Palace of Everlasting Youth
Program Book [PDF]
Mr. Cai Shaohua is Director of the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater. An energetic and forward-looking artistic administrator, he has guided, since 2002, the troupe to gain international fame and artistic successes. With collaborative projects and strategic use of artistic and human resources, he has developed not only the troupe’s effective preservation of kunqu as a cultural heritage of China, but also its innovative and well-received productions of grand operas, which include: The Peony Pavilion the Young Lovers’ Edition (2004); The Palace of Eternal Youth (2004); the Jade Hairpin (2010); and Lanke Mountain (2008).
Ms. Shen Fengying is an internationally renowned kunqu performer of the young and unmarried woman role, a specialty that she learned from Ms. Zhang Jiqing, Ms. Hua Wenyi, Ms. Wang Fang, and other distinguished masters. Noted for her onstage beauty and exquisite acting, Ms. Shen has won many awards and honors, which include: Top 10 Best Young Kunqu Performers Award (2007); the Plum Flower Award, the highest Chinese award for operatic performers (2007) ; and national designation as a Class One Performing Artist. She plays leading roles in several canonic kunqu operas, such as the Peony Pavilion: the Young Lovers’ Edition; the Jade Hairpin, and the Romance of the West Chamber. Ms. Shen performs internationally. In 2007, she performed kunqu in Tokyo for Prime Minister Wenjiabao’s state visit to Japan; in the same year, she performed in Paris at the UNESCO Festival of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Yu Jiulin is an internationally renowned kunqu performer of the young man role, a specialty that he learned from Wang Shiyu, Yue Meiti, Shi Shaomei, and other distinguished masters. Noted for his stage persona as a handsome, talented, and erudite scholar, Mr. Yu has won several major awards, which include: Top 10 Best Young Kunqu Performers Award (2007), the Plum Flower Award, the highest Chinese award for operatic Chinese performers (2007); and national designation as a Class One Performing Artist. Mr. Yu plays leading roles in several canonic kunqu operas, such as The Peony Pavilion: the Young Lovers’ Edition, the Jade Hairpin and the Romance of the West Chamber. Mr. Yu performs internationally. In 2007, he performed kunqu in Tokyo for Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s state visit to Japan; in the same year, he performed in Paris at the UNESCO Festival of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In 2008, he performed in Tokyo in a Chinese-Japanese version of the Peony Pavilion.
Zhou Xuefeng is an acclaimed kunqu performer of the young male role. He studied kunqu with Cai Zhengren, Wang Shiyu, and Yue Meiti and other distinguished masters. To advance his artistry, Mr. Zhou became, in 2003, a formal disciple of Cai Zhengren, and since then, has continuously received personalized coaching from the senior master kunqu. Mr. Zhou has won a number of awards, which include: Top 10 Best Young Kunqu Performers Award (2007); the Red Plum Golden Award (2009). Mr. Zhou plays leading roles in a number of kunqu plays, which include the Palace of Eternal Youth, and the Lioness Roar (Shihou ji).
Ms. Shen Guofang specializes in the teenage female role, and her vivid portrayal of charming and innocent maids, such as Chunxiang in the Peony Pavilion the Young Lovers’ Edition and Yunxian in The Hairpin and the Bracelet, has been popularly received. Recognized as a National Class Two Performer, Ms. Shen has won a number of national awards, which include Outstanding Young Kunqu Performers Award (2007), the Silver Prize of First Kunqu Festival (2000), New Performers of Suzhou Award (2007).
Lü Jia specializes in the teenage female and martial female roles. Her teachers include Zhao Guozhen, Wu Meiyu, Liang Guyin, and other famous kunqu masters. Recognized as a National Class Two Performer, and noted for her performance of many operatic characters, Lü has vividly performed Hongniang in the Romance of the West Chamber, Yan Xiqiao in the Water Margin (Shuihu ji), and other beloved female characters. Lü has won a number of national awards, which include silver prizes in the third and fourth Red Plum Competition of Operatic Performances in Jiangsu Province (2007, and 2009).
Lü Fuhai specializes in the clown and fu (supporting man) roles. A designated National Class One Performer, and a recognized artistic successor of Wang Chuansong, a legendary performer of the clown role, Lü performs clownish characters with perfect timing and witty humor. His famous roles include Zhang Sanlang of the Water Margin, and Lou the Mouse of the Fifteen Strings of Cash. Lü’s many awards include: Outstanding Performance Award at the First Kun Opera Festival (2000) and Distinguished Performer Award at the Second Kun Opera Festival (2003).
Zou Jianliang is the vice president of Suzhou Kun Opera Theater and a National Class One dizi (flute) performer. After childhood lessons with his father, Zou learned dizi playing from several renowned teachers. In 1977, he enrolled in the Jiangsu Province Kunqu academy and there he learned from Gu Zhaoqi and other distinguished kunqu dizi artists. Zou is the principle dizi player for several major productions of the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater, which include the Peony Pavilion:the Young Lovers’ Edition, the Palace of Eternal Youth, and the Jade Hairpin. Zhou performs extensively in Asia, Europe and the US.
Zhou Zhihua is a young and promising player of dizi and xiao (vertical flute). A graduate of the Jiangsu Province Opera Academy, Zhou joined the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater in 2004 as a wind instrument performer, and received further coaching from Zou Jianliang, the troupe’s principle dizi player. Zhou plays for many traditional productions of kunqu shows, and has performed many times in Hong Kong and other Asian cities.
Xin Shilin is the principle percussionist of Suzhou Kun Opera Theater. A graduate of the Shandong Province Opera Academy, he plays both traditional and contemporary repertories of kunqu. In 2006, he was named one of Ten Outstanding Young Persons in Suzhou. Traveling with the troupe, Xin has performed in many Western, Asian, and Chinese cities.
Fu Jianping is a National Class Two Performer and a principle erhu player for the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater, who also plays a number of other string, wind and percussion instruments. Fu also composes/arrange kunqu instrumental music; his works include instrumental compositions for The Palace of Eternal Youth and The Lanke Mountain. Traveling with the troupe, Fu has performed in different countries and places including Italy, Austria, Belgium, and Singapore.
Xu Chunxia is a young and promising performer of the erhu and zhonghu fiddles. She joined the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater in 2001, and since then toured with the troupe, performing kunqu instrumental music in Asian and European venues.
Wang Yingying is a National Class Two Performer who plays a number of Chinese string and/or plucked instruments, which include the pipa, the kunqu lute (quxian), the zhong ruan (lute), and guqin (seven-string zither). In addition to her performances with the troupe’s international tours, Wang also performs as a soloist, and has earned critical acclaims for her performances.
Yao Shenxing has played erhu since the age of 12. She joined the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater in 2003, and since then, performs internationally as both a member of the troupe’s orchestra and as a soloist. Noted for her solo playing, she has performed in many cultural and official functions in Suzhou.
As a performer who joined the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater in 1977, Gu Ling specialized in the roles of young and unmarried woman and military female. In 2000, she changed her career to become a make-up stylist. Since 2004, she has produced critically acclaimed make-up designs for leading characters in a number of major productions, which include the popular Peony Pavilion: the Young Lovers’ Edition and the Jade Hairpin. Gu tours internationally with the troupe.
Upon graduation, in 2003, from the Suzhou University specializing in cloth designs, Bai Lingfang joined the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater as a costume designer. She has created costumes for the troupe’s Chinese and Japanese joint productions of the Peony Pavilion and the Romance of the Wet Chamber, and supervised the making of costumes for new productions of the Peony Pavilion, the Jade Hairpin, and the Palace of Eternal Youth. Bai tours internationally with the troupe.
This performance marks the UMS debut of Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province.