Kunqu Opera upgrades to attract modern theater audiences

Updated 2018-04-25 11:26:02 China Daily

Actors of the Northern Kunqu Opera Theater display a new show Epiphyllum which will make the debut in Beijing on May 30 and 31. (Photo: China Daily/Du Lianyi)

A new production is looking to bridge the gap between the performing style of Kunqu Opera and the tastes of modern theater audiences. 

About a year ago, when Huo Xin started watching Eternal Love, a 58-episode TV series adapted from the online novel titled Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Blossoms, he became enchanted by the bittersweet romance between the fox princess and the dragon prince.

After watching the TV series, which received more than 30 million online views on major Chinese video-streaming platforms, a question popped into his head: "Why is this TV series is so popular with younger viewers?"

Then a second question came to Huo's mind: "If a similar story was told in a Kunqu Opera show, could it be as popular with younger audiences?"

For Huo, a 32-year-old Kunqu Opera director at the Northern Kunqu Opera Theater, a 60-year-old theater based in Beijing, he has been trying to connect Kunqu Opera, one of the oldest traditional forms of Chinese opera with about 600 years of history, with the younger generation.

Over the space of two weeks, he watched the entire TV series again, and realized that a Kunqu Opera performance could be a vehicle for presenting this kind of story.

He then wrote a script about a love-triangle between a man, a woman and an epiphyllum (cactus flower) fairy, which he turned into a 100-minute Kunqu Opera show, titled Epiphyllum.

The show will make its debut at Beijing's Long Fu Theater on May 30 and 31.

Students of the Capital Normal University in Beijing have a facial make-up of Kunqu Opera. (Photo: China Daily/Du Lianyi)

Ahead of this, Huo and his cast took the show on a preview tour of Beijing universities, visiting Capital Normal University on April 12 before going on to Renmin University on April 18.

"We are attempting to bridge the gap between the performing style of Kunqu Opera and the tastes of modern theater audiences," says Huo, adding that the three main actors in the production are of a similar age to the students they met, and that the promotional video for the show combined scenes from Kunqu Opera with hip-hop music.

He also added Western string instruments, violin and cello to the band, while retaining the major musical instrument for Kunqu Opera - the bamboo flute.

At the CNU showcase, actors from the troupe interacted with the students, painting their faces as different characters from Kunqu Opera, and introducing them to the history of the ancient art form. Scenes from Epiphyllum were also performed.

One of the audience members was Bai Qiutong, a graduate student from the CNU's music department. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in history, Bai started up a student community for learning Kunqu Opera in 2016, the first of its kind at the university.

Initially, about 30 students applied to join the community, but now it has more than 130 members. Every week, professional actors and musicians offer students training and guidance on how to perform Kunqu Opera.

Bai became interested in Kunqu Opera at the age of 11 when she began reading scripts of famous works by Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) playwright Tang Xianzu, such as The Peony Pavilion and The Purple Flute, which have been adapted into Kunqu Opera shows.

Students of the Capital Normal University in Beijing have a facial make-up of Kunqu Opera. (Photo: China Daily/Du Lianyi)

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