Chinese opera is more often than not dominated by a small number of established stars, the emerging talent relegated to secondary roles where they are likely to be overlooked by all but the most sharp-eyed of aficionados. One benefit of the hard struggle that traditional opera faces in the modern era is that many companies have looked to their junior members to inject new blood into productions and attract a younger audience.
Performers such as Shan Wen (單雯), 22, and Shi Xiaming (施夏明), 27, have come into their own in this new environment, and have already established themselves as celebrities within the kun opera (崑劇) community, and will be headlining a visit by the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater (江蘇省崑劇院) to Taipei this weekend in 2012 Kun Opera: Tale of Youth, Operatic Highlights by the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater (2012崑曲青春說故事 — 江蘇省崑劇院精采折子戲).
Despite her tender years, Shan has already been a member of the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater for over a decade, having joined the company when she was 10. She has won a reputation as “the most beautiful Duli-niang” (最美麗的杜麗娘), which refers to the leading role in the opera The Peony Pavilion (牡丹亭), a classic of the kun opera repertoire. Shi, who has picked up numerous awards, stepped into the limelight last year after he wowed audiences in Beijing with his performance as Jia Baoyu (賈寶玉), the effete hero in The Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢), highlights of which will be included in this weekend’s program.
Shan has already won a high level of recognition within China and is reported to have turned down lucrative offers from movie and TV companies, saying that any time spent away from kun opera would be time wasted. Shan is a disciple of Zhang Jiqing (張繼青), arguably the most respected kun opera performer still practicing today, and recognized as one of the foremost interpreters of the Duli-niang role.
The production touring Taiwan is a selection of highlights from mostly well-known operas. In addition to Shan and Shi, the talents of many other young performers will be on display, providing a showcase of the new blood that kun opera lovers on both side of the Strait hope will further invigorate this operatic form.