With the opening of the Chinese opera classic The Palace of Eternal Youth (長生殿) at the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院文會堂) on Wednesday, the institution’s director, Chou Kung-shin (周功鑫), brings to fruition her vision of expanding the museum’s cultural relevance and broadening its appeal.
The production takes to the stage every Wednesday for the next 12 weeks and will have English-language side-titles, which widens its accessibility.
In late 2007, the museum’s Vienna Art Festival (維也納藝術季), which featured a series of concerts related to its Splendor of the Baroque and Beyond: Great Hapsburg Collectors exhibition, was well received.
The current project, titled New Melody From the National Palace Museum (故宮新韻), is a longer term undertaking that features Chinese operatic productions tailored to complement the museum’s exhibits.
What makes the New Melody project particularly exciting is the very high caliber of the two groups that have so far agreed to take part.
The Palace of Eternal Youth is a 90-minute production specially created by the Lanting Kun Opera Company (蘭庭崑劇團) starring Wen Yuhang (溫宇航).
After The Palace’s run, Beijing opera star Li Baochun (李寶春) will take the stage with his highly-acclaimed interpretation of The Monkey King Makes Havoc in Heaven (孫悟空大鬧天宮).
When planning to introduce performance art to the museum, Chou said there was a strong consensus on the need for a connection between the artistic productions and the museum’s exhibitions.
In the case of The Palace of Eternal Youth, part of the opera’s story is presented in the Tang Dynasty painting Emperor Ming-huang’s Flight to Szechwan (明皇幸蜀圖), one of the institution’s great treasures.
WHAT: The Palace of Eternal Youth (長生殿) by Lanting Kun Opera Company (蘭庭崑劇團)
WHEN: Every Wednesday (2:30pm to 4pm) from July 8 to Sept. 23
WHERE: National Palace Museum’s auditorium (國立故宮博物院文會堂), 221 Zhishan Rd Sec 2, Shihlin Dist, Taipei City (台北市士林區至善路二段221號)
ADMISSION: Free. Booking for performances and lectures can be made through the NPM online booking site at tech2.npm.gov.tw/signup/frontend/index.asp. Tickets will also be available at the door. Further information in English about the production is available at www.npm.gov.tw/en/new_02.htm?docno=572&fp=true.
“Visual arts express a single moment. In a good work, this moment can hint at the past, express the present, and suggest the future. Performance art is extended through time and can tell a story from beginning to end. By putting these two things together, we are using an artifact to enrich our production, while the performance can enrich [our understanding] of the artifact,” said Wang Chih-ping (王志萍), Lanting Kun Opera Company’s director.
Lanting won acclaim for combining the rigorous discipline of traditional opera with contemporary presentation styles. In condensing a 50-act opera that could take anything up to two days to perform into a 90-minute production required ingenuity, but Wang believes that despite the short stage time, both a narrative structure and the original’s highlights have been preserved.
The Palace of Eternal Youth tells the story of the Tang Dynasty emperor Ming-huang (唐明皇) and his infatuation with the Lady Yang (楊貴妃), which nearly brought his rule to an inglorious end.
The painting that is paired with the opera portrays the emperor fleeing before rebel armies. Ultimately he saves himself and his dynasty by sacrificing the object of his love to the blood lust of his enemies.
The production of The Palace focuses on what Wang believes is the most moving section of the opera, which starts with the emperor pledging his exclusive affection to Lady Yang, and ends with his flight and the latter’s death.
Wang, an art historian by training, said that she chose Emperor Ming-huang’s Flight to Szechwan as her point of departure because of its value as an historical artifact, its acknowledged artistic merit, and its close association with one of the best-known romances in Chinese literature.