Stage Performances / The Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre
Programme Details

19-20/7 (Fri-Sat) 7:30pm

21/7 (Sun) 2:30pm

Auditorium, Kwai Tsing Theatre

With Chinese and English surtitles.
Members of the audience are strongly advised to arrive punctually. Latecomers and those who leave their seats during the performance will only be admitted and allowed to return to their seats respectively during the intermission or at a suitable break.

Enquiries: 2268 7325 (Programme) /
3166 1100 (Ticketing)

Booking: 3166 1288 /


The Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre will be bringing the classic The Palace of Eternal Life and two selections of traditional opera excerpts to showcase the charm of northern Kunqu in this year's Festival. The Palace of Eternal Life is one of the two dramatic gems of the Qing dynasty, and a Kunqu classic of the highest literary, musical and dramatic calibre. This version is centred on the tragic love story of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang and Imperial Concubine Yang. Wei Chunrong and Wang Zhenyi, both renowned Plum Blossom Award winners, will perform together at the peak of their careers.

The two excerpt series will highlight the distinctive acting techniques of the different role types of northern Kunqu, especially laosheng (old male), hualian (painted face), wusheng (military male) and zhengdan (virtuous female). This exquisite performance will leave you captivated.

Programme Details
19/7 (Fri)
20/7 (Sat)
21/7 (Sun)

The programme features classics from the northern Kunqu school, with four distinctive features as follows: first, they showcase the unique style of the northern Kunqu Opera – unlike the intricate, amorous display of love between the male and female leads in the southern counterpart, northern Kunqu's popular plays feature old man (laosheng) and painted face (hualian) roles, so the audience in Hong Kong will see the bold, heroic side of Kunqu which is a break from the delicate shuimo vocal style. Secondly, the programme shows how the legacy of zaju plays of the Yuan dynasty is preserved. While through centuries of evolution, Kunqu tended to stage more Chuanqi productions during the Ming and Qing dynasties, a significant number of zaju plays had managed to pass down to posterity through the Kunqu form. Examples can be seen in The Female Narrative Singer, A Farewell Feast and To the Banquet Armed in this series. Thirdly, full versions of Lady Zhaojun Going beyond the Great Wall, Asking the Way and The Hunt are rarely staged on the Kunqu stage. The opportunity to appreciate them is precious and also serves as a practical means of inheriting traditional Kunqu Opera art. Fourthly, the present productions are all challenging in terms of vocal and acting skills. Some may say it is a great challenge for any actor to perform well in any type of play, but the productions in this series involve extensive singing and complex stylised movements, so the challenge is especially daunting. The Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre has brought a stellar cast to Hong Kong on this occasion, so this is a rare opportunity not to be missed!

19/7 7:30pm

The Palace of Eternal Life

The Palace of Eternal Life depicts the An Lushan Rebellion that occurred during the Tianbao era of Emperor Ming of Tang's reign. It narrates the love story between the emperor and his beloved Imperial Concubine, Lady Yang. It has been lauded as 'a monumental work in the millennium history of Chinese opera: its richly endowed subject has been exquisitely honed into a great literary piece that puts scholars and artists alike into humble submission.' Such accolades are well-deserved. The production preserves the tradition of acts and classic arias, thus earning it the crown among Chuanqi. Theorist of Chinese opera Wu Mei found it remarkable to be able to contain the most enduring thespian bravura pieces in one play. Classic excerpts such as Bestowing Treasures as a Love Pledge, Storming the Chamber, Dire News at the Banquet, Burying the Beauty and Dreaming in the Rain, which are also brilliant with high drama in this epic Chuanqi, make up one whole evening's performance. The two Plum Blossom Award winning leads – Wei Chunrong (Lady Yang) and Wang Zhenyi (Emperor Ming) – form the best regal pair on the Kunqu Opera stage today.

Main Cast: Wei Chunrong, Wang Zhenyi

20/7 7:30pm

Traditional Opera Excerpts I

Asking the Way from The Chain Scheme

Main Cast: Zhang Nuan

A Farewell Feast from the Qing Court Opera Shengping Baofa

Main Cast: Shi Shuyue

The Female Narrative Singer from The Story of a Street Vendor

Main Cast: Zhang Zhumei

Lady Zhaojun Going beyond the Great Wall from The Tomb of Wang Zhaojun

Main Cast: Zhang Yuanyuan

The Sword Banquet Trap from To the Banquet Armed

Main Cast: Yang Fan

Lady Zhaojun Going beyond the Great Wall nowadays is often performed as a martial piece. But by its tradition, The Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre continues to make it a well-balanced act of singing and acting. The protagonist, Lady Zhaojun, admonishes the court ministers for their incompetence, which causes her demise. As she leaves her homeland and goes beyond the Great Wall to marry a Xiongnu prince, she tearfully narrates the predicament she faces which puts the men to shame. The Female Narrative Singer originates from the zaju repertory of the Yuan dynasty. Here, the female lead (zhengdan) delivers a full set of nine tightly interlinked crisp and lively arias unique in Northern Kunqu Opera from The Story of a Street Vendor. A Farewell Feast has its origins in Qing dynasty court drama. It is adapted from the dramatised version of the classic novel, Journey to the West, and is a bravura piece of jing actors in painted face roles, but has been so rarely performed that it has almost fallen into oblivion. The current production is revived from the Theatre's archive. Asking the Way is a solo performance picked from the martial clown's repertoire of 'Five Deadly Venoms', featuring the Scorpion. The act requires good singing as well as a wide range of acrobatic skills – a feat that few actors can perform nowadays. The Sword Banquet Trap is another act that requires the actor in red painted face roles to show off good vocal skills. Adapted from the renowned work of Guan Hanqing, it gives a convincing portrayal of the heroic mien of Guan Yu as he heads off into a political trap in the name of a banquet all alone. The famous line 'the great river flows east' demonstrates his heroic spirit.

21/7 2:30pm

Traditional Opera Excerpts II

Zhong Kui Marrying His Younger Sister Off from Tian Xia Le – The Story of Zhong Kui and Du Ping

Main Cast: Yang Jianqiang

The Hunt from The Story of the White Rabbit

Main Cast: Liu Wei

Looking Homeward from Su Wu Herding Sheep

Main Cast: Yuan Guoliang, Weng Jiahui

Fleeing by Night from Lin Chong on the Run

Main Cast: Liu Heng

Killing the Tiger from The Prophecies of Taoist Monk Iron Headgear

Main Cast: Wei Chunrong, Shi Shuyue

Zhong Kui Marrying His Younger Sister Off may be a gathering of ghosts, but it is also filled with the warmth of a good brother towards his younger sister. The show features martial arts displayed by the horde of demons. The Kunqu Fleeing by Night is a highly popular piece. Not only is the libretto well written, but it is a challenging act for the actor playing Lin Chong. Looking Homeward is a fine example of blending the northern and southern Kunqu vocal and presentation styles. The protagonist is an ageing Su Wu, who meets a young Li Ling. Both have been wronged in their lives, and they sing the pain from their hearts. The Hunt is another rare production on the contemporary stage. Featuring wawasheng in child roles, the singing and acting are definitely unlike other plays. Killing the Tiger is a renowned piece in Han Shichang's repertoire that showcases cishadan (female assassin) roles. Her adept use of 'eyes' and 'facial expressions' has garnered recognition from numerous experts and audiences. The protagonist is a fiercely loyal palace maid called Fei Zhen'e. She is determined to avenge her country by impersonating the Princess of the Ming and assassinating the rogue.

The running time of each performance is approximately 3 hours including an intermission of 15 minutes.


Kunqu Opera

Kunqu Opera refers to a form of Chinese traditional theatre performed in the vocal style of kunqiang (also called Kunqu). As a singing style, kunqiang gained popularity in the Kunshan area of Suzhou during the Yuan and Ming periods. It was refined and improved upon by the literati of Ming dynasty, such as Wei Liangfu, to achieve a standardised artistic form. The result was a vocal genre of mellifluous charm called shuimoqiang ('water milling vocal style') and a stringent observance of the tonal system. In the centuries to follow, Kunqu Opera would become a model for later operatic genres, earning descriptions from historians as 'the mother of Chinese theatre' and 'the source of all operatic genres'. In 2001, UNESCO declared it on the first list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Kunqu Opera's highly integrative performing mode brings together movements, delivery of lines and singing to present a story. Over its long period of development, it has come to encompass literature, music, dance, fine art, martial arts and acrobatics. A Kunqu Opera performance may include poetry, various types of prose, string and wind ensembles, gong-and-drum music and singing accompanied only by clappers. Movements such as hand, eye, body movements, sleeve dancing and steps are immaculately executed. A table and two chairs are enough to constitute the mise en scène, from which numerous scenarios unfold that evoke the audience's most vivid imaginations. It is therefore a genre capable of the richest interpretations.