Shanghai Kunju Opera Troupe is now warming up for its world tour with Peony Pavilion, a Chinese classical play written by Tang Xianzu about 400 years ago.
Peony Pavilion is a long play of 55 acts. Set in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the love story vividly depicts a young woman's dream of meeting her perfect match, and a young man's dream of finding his lover at the Peony Pavilion. When the young woman died, her lover still pursued her ghost, and after fighting the Judge of Hell, the young woman came to life and the lovers finally reunited.
Tang Xianzu (1550-1616) boasts one of the greatest playwrights in China. He is regarded by many theatre experts as the "Chinese Shakespeare." Dreams are a main theme in Tang's works. His four masterpieces - "Peony Pavilion," "The Tale of Handa," "The Tale of Nanke" and "The Tale of the Purple Hairpin" -- are all related to dreams.
Kunju Opera is one of China's classical opera forms, which originated in Jiangsu Province about 500 years ago. Through centuries of development, Kunju Opera has established a complete system of acting as well as its own distinctive tunes. As a historical play, Peony Pavilion is most suited to be performed in this traditional theatre form. Excerpts of the play have been staged by Shanghai Kunju Opera Troupe several times from 1950s to 1990s, but never in its entirety.
With a total investment of US$500,000, Chen Shizheng Chen, a New York-based Chinese director, succeeded in directing this record-breaking 20-hour performance, which will be spread over six nights. "The opera is an epic spectacle that rolls out like a giant Chinese scroll painting," said Chen. Altogether 22 actors and actresses will play 106 roles on a stage without any wing-cloths or backdrops. The accompanying orchestra sits in full view of the audience. Actors and actresses make up and change costumes on stage. Those performers who have finished their parts mix and chat with the audience. This is similar to the traditional village performance in China, which helps the audience to relax and enjoy.
The Shanghai Kunju Opera Theatre will give a preview performance in Shanghai in June. On July 7, the theatre will make its American debut at the Lincoln Centre Arts Festival. Later on, they will attend the Paris Autumn Arts Festival in November, the Sydney Arts Festival and the Hong Kong Arts Festival next January.
--By Wang Ling