Liyuan Opera originated in Quanzhou, Fujian. With a history that goes back to more than eight hundred years, it is one of the oldest theatrical genres in China that are still extant today. It is sung in the Quanzhou dialect of the Minnan (southern Fujian) system.
Liyuan Opera is categorically divided into three streams, the shanglu, xianan and the xiaoliyuan. The shanglu stream consists of a large number of traditional libretti and scores of the nanxi (Southern Opera) of the Song and Yuan period (960 – 1368), the content of which is largely inspired by stories on the themes of patriotism, filial piety, chastity and righteous spirits. The libretto of Zhu Maichen has faithfully followed the incomplete edition of the original script that was orally transmitted by actors of the older generations. In reviving the play, the troupe had made no additions or changes to it in a bid to retain as far as possible the original staging, reproduce the plotline, and re-present the folk culture through the use of ancient dialects and slangs of southern Fujian in the lines and lyrics. The play has therefore been lauded as an invaluable gem with high cultural value and is worth of research. In the xianan stream, the stories mostly come from folklore; an example is Singing the Beggar’s Ditty from Li Yaxian, which is imbued with the vivid, interesting details of everyday life. As for the xiaoliyuan stream, its stock repertoire consists of many plays from nanxi that dates back to the early Ming period (the second half of the 17th century). This stream is distinguished by the delicate, insightful acting of artists performing the sheng (male) and dan (female) roles. Lu Mengzheng belongs to the nanxi of the Song and Yuan period (circa 10th to 14th centuries). It is in the stock repertoire of the eighteen pengtou plays of the xiaoliyuan stream. Another xiaoliyuan repertory The Story of the Rabbit, with an alternative title as Liu Zhiyuan, was one of the four major nanxi plays of China. Its ancient provenance makes it a rare legacy of the traditional genre of Liyuan Opera. The upcoming shows are performed by the company cast led by Zeng Jingping, Representative Bearer of Liyuan Opera as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage and two-time winner of the Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre. They will re-enact the quaint charm of the theatrical genre dating back to centuries ago.
28/6 (Fri) 7:30pm
To the Cave Dwelling Across the Bridge, Cooking Gruel, Checking Footprints on the Snow, Leaving the Cave Dwelling from Lu Mengzheng (Remnant Extant Version)
Lu Mengzheng is in the repertory of eighteen pentou plays of the xiaoliyuan stream of Liyuan Opera. According to the New Findings about Southern Opera, it belongs to the nanxi (Southern Opera) of the Song and the Yuan period (circa 10th to 14th centuries). No libretti of it had been survived. But similar stories referencing ‘Lu Mengzheng and his humble abode of a cave dwelling’ were cited in several compendium works of Yuan and Ming period. While this play can be found in Liyuan Opera’s xiaoliyuan and xianan repertories, the presentations are different. Also, in the xianguan (strings-and-wind) music, there are many arias that originated from this play.
The story takes place during the Northern Song period. Liu Yue’e is the daughter of the Prime Minister. When her father openly invites suitors for his daughter, Yue’e chooses the talented but penniless scholar, Lu Mengzheng, by throwing an embroidered ball to him. Her father is strongly against this marriage and wants to go back on his words. Yue’e defies him and marries Lu in honour of her word. The Prime Minister gets so piqued that the two are expelled from his High Residence. The husband and wife can only live in a cave dwelling in the countryside. Her mother is worried about her suffering from hunger and cold, and sends her silver and rice. Lu Mengzheng returns home, discovers tracks on the snow, and suspects his wife of extramarital affairs. It is only after a lot of explaining that the two make up. Lu sits for the national civil examination. And later he does pluck the laurels. He sends a messenger to give his wife the good news as well as a bouquet of viburnum. The couple’s harsh life is finally over, and they bow deep to their former humble abode to take leave of it forever.
Main Cast: Lin Cangxiao, Zeng Jingping
The running time of the performance is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including an intermission of 15 minutes.
29/6 (Sat) 7:30pm
Zhu Maichen (Remnant Extant Version)
Zhu Maichen is a play in the traditional repertory of the shanglu stream of Liyuan Opera. It is also one of the stories on the theme of Lanke Mountain retained in Liyuan Opera. Although out of all the episodes, only five have been retained through the oral transmission of artists of older generations, namely Forced to Write the Annulment, Dissuading Dong Cheng, Sweeping the Streets, Asking Grandpa Zhang to Speak on Her Behalf, and The Final Reunion. While these are only incomplete editions of the original script, the five episodes suffice to give the framework of the entire play. In the revival process, the troupe had made no additions or changes to it in a bid to retain the original as far as possible. The troupe has maintained the stance to ‘revive the old version as much as in its old form’. Since its premiere, Zhu Maichen has garnered a lot of attention, and has been commended as ‘a rare theatrical piece on the contemporary stage, with high cultural value and being worthy of research.’ Unlike other genres using the same theme and story, the Liyuan Opera version of Zhu Maichen offers a happy ending, where ‘spilled water can be retracted, and a split couple can reunite’. By virtue of this, instead of a tragedy, it is a comedy through and through. On its premiere evening, the audience was totally taken by surprise, and could not help laughing happily. The use of ancient dialects and slangs of southern Fujian in the lines and the lyrics also add to the vernacular cultural interest.
Zhu Maichen has fallen into hard times and the worst of luck as well. Already in his middle age, he has not been able to attain any official position. His wife, Zhao Xiaoniang, has been goaded by a matchmaker to divorce Zhu so that she can remarry, eyeing for Dong Cheng. She refuses to change her mind despite much dissuasion from Grandpa Zhang, and forces Zhu to write an annulment letter so she would be free. Dong Cheng’s uncle hears of this, and sternly forbids him in harbouring such thought. Now having left her husband and lost her chance to remarry, Zhao cannot but make a living as a weaver. One day, she is sent by the yamen (ancient administrative office) to go and sweep the streets clean. She happens to see Zhu, who had gone to the capital to sit for the civil examination with the money Grandpa Zhang gave him and finally plucked the laurels. He is now returning home as prefect of the place. Zhao goes up to him and begs to be accepted again. Zhu spills some water in front of his horse to show what a hopeless case she has. Having suffered the insult, Zhao returns home with remorse. She goes to Grandpa Zhang to tell him how poorly she has behaved and now repents. She begs Zhang to go to see Zhu in the hope that he can bring him round. By then, Zhu has already married the daughter of Minister Ni at the capital. On his official trip home, he has brought with him his wife and his mother-in-law. With Grandpa Zhang speaking on Zhao’s behalf, and his mother-in-law’s generous declaration that ‘in loving her son-in-law, she would love his former wife Zhao, too’, Zhu decides to take Zhao back.
Main Cast: Lin Cangxiao, Zeng Jingping, Li Huiyi
The running time of the performance is approximately 3 hours including an intermission of 15 minutes.
30/6 (Sun) 7:30pm
Reunion by the Well, Forcing His Father to Return Home, Reunion at the Mill from The Story of the Rabbit (Remnant Extant Version)
The Story of the Rabbit is one of the four major stock repertory works of ancient nanxi (Southern Opera) popular during the Song and Yuan period, namely The Story of the Wooden Hairpin, The Story of the Rabbit, The Blessings of the Moon and Killing a Dog to Admonish Her Husband retained in Liyuan Opera. The staging has a quaint charm, and the presentation can be both formal and comical. It has high historical as well as entertainment value. The present production adopts the angle of revival, i.e., returning to the old tradition, in order to recreate for the audience the ancient world of nanxi of a millennium ago.
The story takes place during the Five Dynasties period (907-979). Liu Zhiyuan marries into the Li Homestead at Shatao Village and becomes the husband of Li Sanniang. But his brother-in-law wants to expel him, so he treats Liu to an evening banquet, then tells him a tall tale about the melon patch the family owns. Liu really believes him and goes to keep vigil at the melon patch at night. In fact Li’s intention is to get him killed by the Melon Demon. Sanniang does not want Liu to go, and tries to seize the mallets from his hands. Liu refuses to listen, and goes to wait in the melon patch. He manages to defeat the demon and finds a precious sword as well as a book on the art of war. So he leaves home to join the army in Binzhou. After he is gone, Sanniang suffers under the hand of her brother and sister-in-law. She works day and night at the mill, which is where she gives birth to her son. She has no scissors to cut the umbilical cord and has to bite it off, so she calls the baby ‘Yaoqilang’ (boy with umbilical cord bitten off). She asks Old Dou to take the baby to Zhiyuan in Binzhou. Sixteen years pass, and one day, Yaoqilang goes hunting. The God of Destiny turns into a rabbit and lures him to a well where he meets Sanniang. She writes a letter in tears, and asks him to take it to Liu Zhiyuan in Binzhou. Yaoqilang returns to Binzhou and discovers finally that the woman by the well is his mother. Father and son hurry to the Shatao Village, and the whole family is reunited at the mill.
Main Cast: Li Huiyi, Chen Qichang, Zheng Yating, Zheng Yasi, Liao Shuyun
Singing the Beggar’s Ditty from Li Yaxian
This is an excerpt taken from Li Yaxian, a Liyuan Opera in the xianan stream of the traditional repertory. The staging is unique with its quaint format and vivid humour. Notable features include the household tune in southern Fujian, Three Thousand Taels of Gold and the rousing ‘chest-hitting dance’. It promises to be a highly entertaining show.
The story takes place during the Tianbao reign of the Tang period. Zheng Yuanhe is the son of a prefect; he has come to the capital to attend the national civil examination. He meets and falls in love with a famous courtesan, Li Yanxian. The pimp at the brothel cunningly cheats Zheng out of his three thousand taels of gold, and then throws him out. Penniless and ill, Zheng joins the ranks of beggars and street singers. In the bitter cold weather of winter, he sings in the streets, where he happens to meet Agui, the main servant of Yaxian. She takes him to find Yaxian to be reunited.
Main Cast: Zhang Chunji, Xu Youjuan
The running time of the performance is approximately 3 hours including an intermission of 15 minutes.
Information provided by Experimental Theatre of Liyuan Opera of Fujian
Liyuan Opera originated in Quanzhou, Fujian in the Song and Yuan period (960 - 1368). With a history that goes back to more than eight hundred years, it is one of the oldest theatrical genres in China that is still extant today. Liyuan Opera has been acclaimed as the ‘living fossil of Southern Opera’. In 2006, it was inscribed in the first listing of National Intangible Cultural Heritage of China. Liyuan Opera is categorised by three streams – xiaoliyuan (‘Pear Garden junior troupes’, also known as ‘Seven Role Type Troupes’) and shanglu and xianan of the daliyuan type (‘Pear Garden adult troupes’). Each has its own stock repertoire of eighteen pengtou plays as well as its own set tunes. The shanglu stream has retained many libretti from nanxi (Southern Opera), the subject matter of which concentrated mostly on traditional values such as patriotism, loyalty, chastity and filial piety. The stock repertory includes Zhu Wen, Cao Bojie, etc. The xianan stream is mainly a repository of local and vernacular plays that are distinguished by their archaistic, rustic charm that springs from everyday life. Examples include Zheng Yuanhe, Su Qin, etc. The third stream, xiaoliyuan plays, features mainly romantic love played out by a sheng (male) and a dan (female) duo as the main cast. The libretti are lyrical and elegant, with melodies sung in lingering, dulcet tones, and delicate and insightful acting. Examples include Jiang Shilong and Chen San and Wuniang. In terms of performance, Liyuan Opera has a very strict formulaic staging rules, known as the ‘Eighteen Step Basic Directions’. There is an emphasis on hand movements: rich, delicate and unique, they are as intriguing as those of the figures seen on the murals of the Dunhuang Grottoes. Its music is composed of qupai (set tune) medleys which have kept many ancient music pieces extant, some of which date back to as early as the Tang and Song period and are known as daqu's (full-length tunes) and faqu's (tunes of Central Asian origin). Sung in the Quanqiang vocal style, they are closely merged with ancient nanyin tunes. Its accompaniment consists mainly of flute and string instruments: the horizontally-held southern pipa (four-stringed plucked instrument), the erxian (two-stringed lute) which is a direct descendant from the xiqin of Jin period, the chiba or now better known as shakuhachi (flute) from the Tang period, and the nangu (southern drum, ‘foot-pressed drum’ or yajiaogu) constituting the large part of the percussion and quite unique in Chinese opera.
Experimental Theatre of Liyuan Opera of Fujian
The Experimental Theatre of Liyuan Opera of Fujian was set up in 1953, and the following year, it already won an Outstanding Repertory Award presented by the Ministry of Culture with the traditional Liyuan Opera of Chen San and Wuniang, and its fame spread far and wide. Armed with the mission of preserving and perpetuating the theatrical genre of Liyuan Opera, the Experimental Theatre of Liyuan Opera of Fujian has been reviving old repertoires and creating new works. The latter category includes A Widow’s Lament, The Scholar and the Widow, The Prison Guard and the Woman Gangster, The Pavilion of the Imperial Monument, etc., all notable for their outstanding quality. Among them, The Scholar and the Widow won the Cao Yu Drama and Literature Award, and was short-listed for the 2003-04 the Top Ten Theatrical Masterpieces of National Fine Stage Arts Project Award. It also won the top prize at the 2nd Outstanding Stock Repertory Works organised by the Ministry of Culture. A Widow’s Lament won an Outstanding Performance Award at the 1st China Theatre Festival, the National Outstanding Original Play Award at its 4th edition, and was short-listed for the National Fine Stage Arts Projects for the season 2005-06. The Prison Guard and the Woman Gangster won the New Repertory Award at the 9th Wenhua Awards. The company was accredited as one of the Major Companies with Original Productions and Performances at National Level in 2013. A key player in Chinese opera, the company has participated in major events such as the Beijing Olympics, the Shanghai World Expo, China Theatre Festival, Shanghai International Arts Festival, and Regional Operatic Showcases presented by the Ministry of Culture. Its overseas tours covered a total of over thirty countries and regions in Europe and Asia.
|28-30/6 Fri-Sun 7:30pm
||Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall
With Chinese and English surtitles
Audience is strongly advised to arrive punctually. Latecomers will only be admitted at a suitable break.
Please refer to the 'Extension Activities' page for details of extension activities
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