General Consultant : Pai Hsien-yung
Kunqu has a history of six hundred years, first originating in the area of Suzhou and Kunshan. From a regional operatic genre, it developed into an important art form that spawned and influenced other genres and sub-genres of Chinese traditional theatre. It was among the first art forms to be inscribed onto the UNESCO’s list of ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. In 2004, the famous novelist Pai Hsien-yung and the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre of Jiangsu Province made a new epoch in the history of Kunqu with the premiere of The Peony Pavilion (Youth version).
Returning to the Chinese Opera Festival this year, Pai and the group will be spearheading a Kunqu mentoring programme. The highly esteemed veterans in the genre, Cai Zhengren, Wang Shiyu, Liang Guyin and Zhang Jingxian will be teaching young actors the performing techniques in two Kunqu classics - The Story of the West Chamber (Southern Qu) and The Palace of Eternal Life and it is expected that this would effectively perpetuate the genre. Also, Wang Shiyu, dubbed ‘Top artist in Kunqu jinsheng roles’, will partner with Wang Fang and Zhang Shizheng in performing an operatic excerpt, Kneeling by the Pond from The Lioness Roars.
The Story of the West Chamber (Southern Qu) is a 16th century reworking during the Ming Dynasty by Li Rihua. The original play The Story of the West Chamber (Northern Qu) was written in the 14th century by Wang Shifu of the Yuan Dynasty (The Mongolian Empire). The ‘North’ and ‘South’ designations have been ascribed by subsequent scholars to differentiate the two. The 14th century original represents the pinnacle of Yuan Dynasty dramatic achievements while the 16th century adaptation has been one of the best-loved pieces among xiqu audiences. The work’s romantic content has inspired generations of young lovers. In the play the young couple is helped in their courtship by the lady’s chambermaid who is well loved by audiences for her lively and intelligent characterization. This triangle of protagonists endows the play with an extremely rich dramatic quality. Performances of the play require execution of the highest standard in both its music and its dramatic acting.
Zhang Junrui, a young scholar, is on his way to the capital to sit for the imperial examination. He passes by the All Grace Monastery in Kaifeng, where the Prime Minister’s family is taking up temporary residence, and happens to meet the Prime Minister’s daughter, Cui Yingying. It is love at first sight for the two. But a message comes from Sun the Tiger, leader of the rebel forces, who declares that he wants Yingying for his wife, failing which he and his men would ransack the monastery. Yingying’s mother, Lady Cui, proposes that whoever manages to drive away the rebels will have her blessing to have Yingying’s hand in marriage. Zhang writes a note to let General Du defeat the rebels successfully. But then, instead of honouring her word, Lady Cui tells Zhang and Yingying to be sworn brother and sister. It is thanks to the maidservant Hongniang, who plays the go-between that the two are able to continue to correspond in secret. Hongniang also helps to arrange a secret rendezvous at which the lovebirds become betrothed. When Lady Cui hears of the rendezvous, she interrogates the maid. Seeing the situation cannot be redone, Lady Cui reluctantly gives her consent to the couple on the condition that Zhang succeeds at the imperial examinations. Zhang and Yingying are married at the end.
Artistic Director & Stage Director：Wang Shiyu
Artistic Adviser：Liang Guyin
Cast：Yu Jiulin, Lu Jia, Zhu Yingyuan
The Palace of Eternal Life was written in the 17th century by Hong Sheng during the Qing (Manchurian) Dynasty. It is an epic that tells a love story against the background of war during a time of change. It is acclaimed as a dramatic, as well as literary, masterpiece. Its music and its drama enhance each other. It is a classic work of xiqu by any standards. The character of the Emperor requires its actor to display an air of royal magnanimity and also the carefree jolliness of a talented artist. The role represents such a challenge that it often defines the achievements of the performer’s artistry. The late maestro Yu Zhenfei’s interpretation of this role is still known and admired by audiences nowadays. The character of the Royal Consort is equally challenging. She is expected to exhibit a seductive propriety. The songs sung by the royal couple are a major attraction of this piece.
Lady Yang Yuhuan is among the bevy of beauties in the palace of Emperor Ming of the Tang Dynasty. With her beauty and talent in singing and dancing, she soon becomes the Emperor’s favourite. But their love is buffeted by political unrest brought about by treachery and rebellions. Lady Yang is forced to commit suicide at the foot of Maweipo by the soldiers threatening to rebel. The Emperor is heartbroken, but he cannot go against the tide. After peace is restored by Guo Ziyi, the Emperor and Lady Yang miss each other, separated by the worlds of the dead and the living. Their true love finally moves the deities. Through the help of Chang’e (the Lady in the Moon), the Weaver Girl et al, the lovers are finally reunited in the Moon Palace on the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Artistic Director：Cai Zhengren
Artistic Adviser：Zhang Jiangxian
Cast：Shen Fengying, Zhou Xuefeng
Plays written in The Pavilion of Chanting in the Wind is a collection of thirteen-two one-act plays by Qing Dynasty playwright Yang Chaoguan. Kou Zhun Cancelling the Birthday Celebrations upon the Memories of His Mother is no.29 in the collection. It is commonly referred to as Cancelling the Birthday Celebrations.
Before Kou Zhun was made prime minister of the Song Dynasty, he served as governor of Xiangzhou. One year during his term there, he decides to give an elaborate banquet to celebrate his birthday. His mother’s old handmaid comes to visit him. She reminisces on the frugal disposition of Kou’s mother and the hard life they led when Kou was a child. Kou expresses repentance for his tendency for extravagance and calls off the banquet.
Cast：Chen Lingling, Qu Binbin
The Mistake Caused by a Kite is a thirty-scene play written by the famous Qing Dynasty playwright Li Yu.
With the encouragement of their nanny, Aijuan attends a rendezvous with the gentleman Youxian in the assumed identity of her sister Shujuan. Coincidentally, it is not really Youxian who arrives for the tryst, but another gentleman Qizhong who has adopted Youxian’s identity. Being put off by the unprepossessing face of Aijuan, Qizhong makes his excuses and leaves.
Cast：Liu Chunlin, Zhou Xuefeng
Lanke Mountain is a chuanqi of the 17th Century, inspired by the folklore Zhu Maichen Divorces His Wife.
Zhu Maichen is a penniless scholar and is looked with spite by his wife, Née Cui. She cannot go on living in poverty anymore. So, persuaded by the matchmaker, she forces Zhu to annul their marriage so that she can marry someone else.
Mentor：Zhang Jiqing, Yao Jikun
This is the most popular of the twenty-six scenes in the play A Conference of Wind and Rain written by Li Yu in the 17th century during the Qing (Manchurian) Dynasty. The juxtaposition of strength and tenderness embodied by the Painted Red Face Role and the Lady Female Role creates the main aesthetic appeal of this particular scene. Maestro Hou Shaokui rendering of this piece is acclaimed for its authentic reflection of the acting conventions of this piece.
This story takes place during the Five Dynasties period. Zhao Kuangyin, later to become the first emperor of Song, is forced to flee from Changan. On his way, he passes by a Taoist shrine and saves a young woman, Zhao Jingniang, who has been abducted and held in captivity by bandits. Jingniang is uncertain of her way home, so Kuangyin offers to accompany her. Before they set off, the two become sworn brother and sister.
Mentor：Hou Shaokui, Qiao Yanhe
Cast：Tang Rong, Shen Guofang
The Lioness Roars is a Ming Dynasty stage adaptation of a Song Dynasty fiction. The playwright Wang Tingna was a native of Xiuning of Anhui Province. The entire play consists of thirty scenes. It is a comedy inspired by the poet Su Shi’s verse written for his friend Chen Jichang, which contains the lines: “At the roaring of the lioness from the east shore of the river; One drops one’s walking stick and loses heart.” These lines are used as the basis for the story in which both Madam Chen’s jealousy and Chen’s fear for her are elaborated. The classic xiqu comedy is particularly acclaimed for the intensely dramatic and creative interplay of the trio of the scholar role, the high-born lady role and the old male role.
Chen Jichang has visited a brothel together with his friend Su Shi. His wife finds out about it and makes him kneel beside the pond as punishment. Su visits Chen in the latter’s residence and sees the state he is in. So Su tries to persuade Chen to take a concubine as a response to his wife’s reign of terror. Madam Chen is not to be slighted in this manner. She castigates Su for intervening in her family affairs and throws him out.
Cast：Wang Shiyu (Guest), Wang Fang, Zhang Shizheng (Guest)