The National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院文會堂) is hosting a new, abridged production of the kun opera The Tale of the Wooden Hairpin (荊釵記) by the Taiwan Kunqu Opera Theater (台灣崑劇團) in four free performances today and Sunday next week. This production was created specifically for the museum as part of its New Melody From the National Palace Museum (故宮新韻) series of theatrical performances. As the performances are free, and have English subtitles, this is an excellent opportunity for foreign residents to get a taste of kun opera.
Although the quality of productions presented as part of the New Melody series has been uneven, and the format has changed on more than one occasion since it was initiated in 2009, The Tale of the Wooden Hairpin returns to the original format introduced by the Lanting Kun Opera Company (蘭庭崑劇團) in its production of The Palace of Eternal Youth (長生殿), which launched the series. The production is a “condensed complete opera” (小全本), meaning that it aims to present a complete story, but with a reduced performance time (in this case just 90 minutes), and with much of the extraneous material removed. It is not a selection of highlights, a common method of presenting well-known scenes from much loved operas, nor is it a complete production, which would have a running time of many hours. The aim is to give a feel for the opera as a whole, without having to endure the many often extended exposition or uninspired subplots that litter full productions.
The authorship of The Tale of the Wooden Hairpin is uncertain and its early history vague, but by the Ming Dynasty it had established itself as one of the “four great southern operas” (四大南戲). In addition to the high-flown romance, the opera is notable for its extensive use of vernacular language. Although the story as a whole has many absurdities and cliches, the opera also contains many outstanding passages, and the central love story is an acknowledged classic of ancient romantic literature.
What: Tale of the Wooden Hairpin (荊釵記)
When: Tomorrow and June 3 at 10:30am and 2:30pm
Where: National Palace Museum’s Auditorium (國立故宮博物院文會堂), 221 Zhishan Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市至善路二段221號)
The story tells of the love between Wang Shiyou (王十朋), an impecunious scholar, and QianYulien (錢玉蓮), a high born maiden. As one might expect, the course of true loves does not run smooth, and Qian is desired by a rich merchant, who takes advantage of Wang’s long absence to force Qian into marrying him. Rather than be unfaithful to her love, Qian attempts suicide, but is saved and adopted into a new family. The two lovers accidentally meet after many years, each thinking the other dead.
Despite the relatively small venue, this production features some of Taiwan’s top operatic talents, not least performer Wen Yuhang (溫宇航), a kun opera specialist with an international reputation. He will be performing in both shows today and at 2:30pm next Sunday.