GWCI Cultural Series: Kunqu Opera

Kunqu Opera Performer

On Friday, November 11th, 2016, the Shanghai Kunqu Group preformed The Peony Pavilion and Mudan Ting at the Hoff Theater for over 500 guests. The performance was organized in response to an invitation from the George Washington University Confucius Institute and the University of Maryland Confucius Institute. Famous Kunqu artists - Yili SHEN, Hong NI and Zhe HOU starred in the performance.

The episodes featured in the program were the 10th chapter < Travelling in the Garden · The Dream Interrupted>, 12th chapter <Seeking The Dream> and the < Records of an Evil Sea> from <Fleeing Down the Mountain>. The former were elegant and gorgeous, resonating deeply with the audience. With the first lyric, the entire theater held its breath. The latter was humorous with accessible lyrics and slapstick humor. Every move of Ben Wu, the little monk, earned much of the evening’s laughter. The host and the performance group delicately composed and prepared the evening’s program to allow the audience to fully experience the true charm of Kunqu, simultaneously in both its sophistication and accessibility, serious drama and light-hearted humor.

Attendees came from all backgrounds, including long-standing fans of Kunqu and many first-time listeners. Combining the art forms of play, opera, ballet, poetry and musical recital, Kunqu opera is one of China's oldest forms of opera, reaching its peak in the 16th - 18th centuries. In 2001, UNESCO added this art form to the list of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Being one of the “UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage” certified by the United Nation, inviting professional groups to the U.S. and perform becomes a symbolic way Confucius Institute to increase understanding of Chinese traditional arts.

11月11日,受乔治·华盛顿大学孔子学院和马里兰大学孔子学院邀请,上海昆剧团在马里兰大学豪夫剧场(Hoff Theater)为500多名当地观众演出昆曲经典剧目《牡丹亭》和《孽海记》。昆曲名家沈昳丽、倪泓、侯哲等担纲主演。


Synopsis - Provided by Wintergreen Kunqu Society

Mudan Ting  牡丹亭

The Peony Pavilion is a poetic play written by Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖 (1550-1616) during the Ming dynasty in 1598, at almost the exact time Shakespeare was writing "Romeo and Juliet." The play consists of 55 scenes.  Around a dozen major scenes are still consistently performed, but transitional scenes are rarely performed today.  "The Interrupted Dream" (scene 10) and "Pursuing the Dream" (scene 12) are two major scenes frequently performed together.

The heroine of the play is a young lady named Du Liniang 杜麗娘. Raised in a strict household, she is forbidden to leave her chambers without permission.  One day, she disobeys her parents and enters the garden, accompanied by her maid, Spring Fragrance (Chunxiang 春香) The spring flowers are in full bloom, and Du Liniang feels the mysterious beauty, joys and longing of nature, life and developing womanhood.  After returning to the house, Du Liniang falls asleep and dreams that she is in the garden where she meets a young scholar. The two are united in true love under a plum tree.

Afterwards she keeps thinking of her lover from the dream.  A few days later, she returns to the garden to pursue the dream but is unable to bring it back.  The performance this evening ends with this scene.  In next several scenes, Du Liniang becomes ill and after drawing a self-portrait, dies of a broken heart. Eventually, the young man Liu Mengmei柳夢梅appears.  He brings Du Liniang back to life and the couple are married. 

Shanghai Troupe of Kunqu Theatre上海昆劇團

The Shanghai Troupe of Kunqu Theatre is a state-sponsored performing troupe, dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of traditional Chinese kunqu theater. Since its founding in 1978 by Yu Zhenfei 俞振飛, many of its leading performers have received wide public acclaim and official national recognition. The touring troupe includes three of their First Class Performers: Gu Haohao 谷好好, Shen Yili 沈昳麗, and Ni Hong 倪泓. Ms. Gu is a recipient of the prestigious Plum Blossom Award.

The troupe maintains a repertoire of over three hundred highlighted scenes and sixty full length plays, including The Palace of Eternal Youth, The Jade Hairpin, The Peony Pavilion, Fifteen Strings of Cash, Pan Jinlian, The Legend of the White Snake, and The Song of a Lute. In addition to their regular performances within China, the troupe has toured in the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Singapore, and Taiwan.

Meeting the Performers

Shen, Yili – A National Class A Actor, Ms. Shen is a graduate of the Shanghai School for Traditional Theatre.  She also holds a Master of Arts degree.  Ms. Shen specializes in the refined maiden (guimendan 閨門旦或五旦) role type.  She has performed leading roles in plays such as “The Peony Pavilion,” “The Palace of Eternal Youth,” and “The Jade Hairpin,” as well as in highlight scenes like “Matchmaking,” “Princess Florets Bestowing her Sword,” and “The Drunken Lady Yang.” She has won many awards, including “Outstanding Performer” in the First National Kunqu Performance Festival and the 11th Shanghai White Magnolia Opera Performance Leading Actor Awards.

Ni, Hong – A National Class A Actor, Ms. Ni is a graduate of the Shanghai School for Traditional Theatre. She converted from the refined maiden (guimendan) role type to the vivacious young female (liudan六旦) role type.  She has performed leading roles in plays including “The Reluctant Bridegroom,” “The Hairpin and the Bracelet,” and “Romance of the Western Chamber,” as well as highlight scenes such as “In the Classroom,” “Lovers’ Rendezvous,” and “Yearning for the Secular World.”  She has won many awards, including “Outstanding Performer” in the First National Kunqu Festival and the 11th Shanghai White Magnolia Opera Performance Supporting Role Award.

Yang, Ziyin – A National Class B Instrument Player, Mr. Yang specializes in Kunqu flute.  He has performed flute in a number of full-length plays as well as highlight scenes.  The plays he has performed as a musician have won many municipal and national awards.