Fri, May 18, 2012 - Page 13 News List

Chinese opera takes a new turn

1/2 Q Theatre’s postmodern Chinese opera production ‘The Legend of Peach Blossom Fan’ revels in innovation, but such an experimental approach could alienate purists

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff reporter

Photo courtesy of NTCH

The Legend of Peach Blossom Fan (亂紅), which was produced for the 2012 International Theatre Festival (2012國際劇場藝術節), is 1/2 Q Theatre’s (二分之一Q劇場) ninth original production, and once again, while the appearance of the show is at first glance traditional, a closer look reveals a deep postmodernist vein.

The group has focused for many years on creating modern experimental works that draw heavily on traditional Chinese opera, particularly kun opera (崑曲). The English title is taken directly from the name of the work that inspired this production, a performance written by the early Qing Dynasty playwright Kong Shangren (孔尚任). With more than 30 major characters and 40 acts, Peach Blossom Fan (桃花扇) focuses on a love story between the young scholar Hou Fangyu (侯方域) and courtesan Li Xiangjun (李香君), which takes place against the backdrop of the fall of the Ming Dynasty. The collapse of Ming power, which was eventually replaced by the Manchu Qing Dynasty of northern “barbarians,” was an event that touched many poets and scholars deeply, and the overwhelming sense of devastation is conveyed in a work that has been described as “China’s greatest historical drama.”

While Peach Blossom Fan has been adapted into various operatic styles, the current production brings together a variety of sub-genres into a single work. This approach is in line with the show’s postmodernist aspirations, but one cannot help but wonder what purpose is served by bringing together performers from kun, Taiwanese and Beijing opera, other than to broaden the work’s appeal. Certainly the cast list is appealing. It includes Yang Han-ju (楊汗如), a longtime collaborator of director Tai Chun-fang (戴君芳) and a major figure in kun opera, Taiwanese gezai opera singer Li Pei-ying (李佩穎), Beijing opera specialist Ling Chia-lin (凌嘉臨), and guest star Wu Shuang (吳雙), a leading member of the Shanghai Kun Opera Company (上海崑劇院).

Performance notes

What: The Legend of Peach Blossom Fan (亂紅)

When: May 25 to May 27 at 7:30pm and May 26 and May 27 at 2:30pm

Where: National Experimental Theater, Taipei City

Admission: Tickets are NT$600, available through NTCH and online at

1/2 Q Theatre is constantly looking for new ways to interpret the classical repertoire from which it draws inspiration, and on this occasion the complex story is given an added dimension through a parallel story that’s set in the Qing Dynasty, which allows the director room to explore different outcomes based on the same narrative foundation. This “game theory” model seems particularly apt in dealing with the insurmountable dilemmas that faced the characters in Kong’s original play. By uprooting the moral issues from their historical time and place, 1/2 Q Theatre aims for universality and contemporary relevance, as the characters seek an equilibrium during a clash of civilizations. Purists are likely to be offended, and depending on the slant you put on the interpretation of postmodernism, the show is likely to appeal or offend in equal measure.

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