The Taiwan Kunqu Opera Theater (台灣崑劇團) was the first professional kun opera troupe to be established in Taiwan. It has been instrumental in fostering the revival of kun opera here, providing a refuge against the slings and arrows of outrageous government arts policy for people who deeply appreciate this form of opera, which has been recognized for more than a decade now by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The group still bears many of the signs of its birth as a loose gathering of aficionados fighting a rearguard action against the demise of an art form that while beautiful, has a high entry barrier for audiences, and an even higher one for performers. It has been active in developing exchanges with the resurgence of kun opera in China, conducting regular performances that bring the cream of Chinese kun opera to Taiwan. A popular adage heard from many people in the world of kun opera is that while China, with its huge resources of raw human talent, has some exceptional performers, the most knowledgeable and appreciative audiences are to be found in Taiwan.
Under the leadership of Professor Hung Wei-chu (洪惟助), the Taiwan Kunqu Opera Theater, with its relatively conservative agenda of preserving tradition, has maintained a program of research and recording that is invaluable to preserving kun opera tradition. As part of this work, they also offer regular performances of operas from their gradually growing repertoire, which unlike the star studded cross-strait collaborations, are cheaply priced and play at smaller and more intimate venues.
For the Mid-Autumn Festival weekend, the company is performing two kun operas at the Dadaocheng Theater (大稻埕戲苑), a small but efficient venue which hosts regular productions of traditional theater.
What: Butterfly Dream and Lanke Mountain
When: Saturday (Butterfly Dream) and Sunday (Lanke Mountain) at 2:30pm
Where:Dadaocheng Theater (大稻埕戲苑), 9F, 21, Dihua St Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市迪化街一段21號9樓)
Tickets are NT$100 to NT$300; available from NTCH ticketing and online at www.artsticket.com.tw
The productions are Butterfly Dream (蝴蝶夢), an opera based on an anecdote presented in the Daoist philosophical compendium attributed to Zhuangzi (莊子), and Lanke Mountain (爛柯山), a classic of the kun repertoire. Both operas are about matrimonial disputes that have terrible consequences, and according to Tony Huang (黃榮輝) of the Taiwan Kunqu Opera Theater, this is intended to encourage husbands and wives to think about the importance of family harmony during Mid-Autumn, a festival that particularly emphasizes the gathering of friends and family.
Huang said both shows are notable for their strong female leads, and while the fight for women to seek freedom to find love may not have been the foremost concern of the original playwrights, the material provides opportunities for revisionist interpretations, giving the stories a more contemporary slant.