Fri, Jan 06, 2012 - Page 14 News List

Music: All’s well that ends well

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Wen Yuhang, right, and Wei Chunrong take the starring roles in the modern kun opera The Butterfly Lovers.

Photo Courtesy of National Guoguang Opera Company

The National Guoguang Opera Company (國立國光劇團) is closing the lunar year with a showcase that includes a production of the modern kun opera (崑劇) The Butterfly Lovers (梁祝), starring Wen Yuhang (溫宇航), an important addition to the company’s lineup, and a Beijing opera double bill featuring rising star Sheng Jian (盛鑑).

In 2001, kun opera was listed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The art form is often referred to as “the mother of Chinese opera” (百戲之母), but for a range of historical reasons it has long been in danger of being swamped by other forms of opera, including brash and brassy Beijing opera (heavily supported by the Chinese government as the “national opera”), and regional favorites like gezai (歌仔) opera (strongly supported by localizing elements in the ROC government).

With increased international recognition of its importance, the beleaguered forces of kun opera have regrouped and are fighting back fiercely for a place in the limelight [see Taipei Times Aug. 4, 2011, “‘Kun’ opera finds new life in Taiwan”].

In Taiwan, a notable achievement for kun opera has been the appointment of Wen Yuhang as a full-time member of the National Guoguang Opera Company.

According to Yu Ting-ting (游庭婷), an assistant researcher at Guoguang, kun opera has always been part of the basic training of the Beijing opera performers at the company, but the addition of Wen has provided a greater depth of knowledge of the genre’s finer points.

Yu added that Cai Zhengren (蔡正仁), the director of the Shanghai Kun Opera Company (上海昆劇團), recently suggested that Guoguang should become a combined Beijing and kun opera company, and while this direction is something the company might pursue in the long term, any talk of substantive action is premature.

Performance Notes

What: The Butterfly Lovers (崑劇—梁山伯與祝英台)

When: Today and tomorrow at 7:30pm and tomorrow at 2:30pm

Where: Metropolitan Hall (城市舞台), 25, Bade Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市八德路3段25號)

Admission: Tickets are NT$400 to NT$2,000, available through NTCH ticketing and online at

What: The Eight Immortals Cross the Eastern Sea (八仙過海) and Vengeance in a Black Pot (奇冤報)

When: Sunday at 2:30pm

Where: Metropolitan Hall (城市舞台), 25 Bade Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市八德路3段25號)

Admission: Tickets are NT$400 to NT$2,000, available through NTCH ticketing and online at

All the same, that Guoguang is putting on a full-blown kun production indicates the importance it places on the revival of this ancient form of Chinese opera.

The Butterfly Lovers is a folk story that has been incorporated into numerous operatic forms. Widely regarded as the Romeo and Juliet of classical Chinese theater, it tells the tale of the impecunious scholar Liang Shanbo (梁山伯) and the rich and impetuous young woman Zhu Yingtai (祝英台). Despite its popularity, and its presentation in a wide variety of regional operatic styles, the story was not adapted for kun opera until 2004, when a production was commissioned by Guoguang and performed by kun enthusiasts from local theater schools and opera companies.

“There is no comparison in regard to the virtuosity of the lead performers,” Yu said about this new production, which in addition to Wen, stars Wei Chunrong (魏春榮), a leading light of the Shanghai Kun Opera Company. Wei is already well-known to Taiwan audiences after receiving an ecstatic reception for her role as the imperial consort Yang Yuhuan (楊玉環) in the 2010 kun opera production of The Palace of Eternal Youth (長生殿).

“The lead performers are both specialists in kun opera and are at the height of their powers,” Yu said. “Their command of voice and movement is incomparable.”

Scriptwriter Tseng Yong-yih (曾永義) has made some changes to the usual operatic presentation of the story. He has emphasized the romantic elements of the often heavily moralizing tone of the original story, and given greater expressive scope to the female lead.

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