Shanghai Kunju Opera Troupe is now warming up for a world tour with Peony Pavilion, a Chinese classical play written by Tang Xianzu some 400 years ago.
Peony Pavilion is a long play of 55 acts. Set in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), 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. The climax is reached when the young woman dies, and her lover pursues her ghost. After he fights the Judge of Hell, the young woman comes back to life and the lovers are 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 suitable to be performed in this traditional theatre form. Excerpts of the play has been staged by Shanghai Kunju Opera Troupe several times from 1950s to 1990s. But never had they performed it in its full-length.
Chen Shizheng is the one who did it. With a total investment of US$500,000, 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 have a relaxed enjoyment.
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 Janury.
-- By Wang Ling