Fri, Jun 03, 2005 - Page 15 News List

`Peony Pavilion' leads Kun opera revival

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Kun opera is regarded by many as the most venerable and influential form of Chinese opera, dating back at least to the 1500s. It has long existed in the shadow of its more showy descendent, Beijing opera, but is now making something of a comeback.

Kun was revealed to a wider audience as something beautiful and even erotic in April last year when Kenneth Pai's (白先勇) sellout version of Peony Pavilion (牡丹亭) opened, staring Shen Feng-ing (沈豐英) and Yu Chiu-lin (俞玖林), two young singers who caught the eye as much through the charisma of youth as by their singing.

As tickets for that show were so hard to come by, it is no surprise that Peony Pavilion is being restaged, this time by the Taipei Chinese Orchestra (台北市立國樂團) with the Jiangsu Provincial Kun Opera (江蘇省崑曲院). Although the hype is nowhere as intense as it was for Pai's "youth edition" of Peony Pavilion, the current staging also boasts the services of Chang Jiching (張繼青), who is generally recognized as one of the foremost practitioners of Kun opera, as artistic director.

Chang -- whose rendition of Du Liniang (杜麗娘), the heroine of Peony Pavilion, is an unsurpassed classic of modern Kun -- was brought in as a consultant on Pai's version, but now she is working with the troupe with which she is officially affiliated, and there is every reason to believe that this version will not be inferior to Pai's high-profile production.

The TCO's staging is being billed as the "highlights edition," since it has compressed the 20 hours of the original into two parts (Pai's version was split into three parts), retaining the overall structure but seeking to appeal to contemporary audiences by focusing on the most famous scenes. This is a slight shift of emphasis from Pai's production, in which he said he wanted to get away from the highlight format and give audiences a glimpse of the opera's monumental structure.

Peony Pavilion is one of Chinese literature's great love stories, its status similar to the stories of Romeo and Juliet or Abelard and Heloise. It is an extended exposition on the theme of love in all its aspects, and indeed has been described as Chinese literature's "book of love." To see this work presented by one of the foremost Kun opera troupes under the artistic direction of one of the form's recognized masters is an opportunity not to be missed.

The revival of Kun's fortunes has seen the establishment in Taiwan of a number of local Kun groups. For those who simply want a quick taste of Kun, the Watermill Kun Opera Troupe (水磨曲集崑劇團) will be offering a free performance of The Story of the White Snake (白蛇傳) at the Red House Theater (紅樓劇場) at 2:30pm on Sunday.

The Jiangsu Provincial Kun Opera's presentation of Peony Pavilion will take place at the Zhong Shan Hall (中山堂) on Sunday in two parts, Part I at 2:30pm and Part II at 7:30pm. Part II will also be presented tonight at 7:30pm. Tickets are NT$300 to NT$1,500 for each part and are available through ERA ticketing and at the venue.

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