Kunqu recreates classic

By Xu Wei (Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2007-05-23 09:25

Shanghai's Kunqu Opera Troupe has reconstructed the script and will perform China's first unabridged, 50-scene, classic "Palace of Eternal Youth." The elegant drama tells the tragic true story of a Tang emperor who was so besotted with his consort that he neglected the state-and lost both his kingdom and his love.

Fans of Kunqu Opera have long lamented that they can only savor a few scenes from the classic "Palace of Eternal Youth" - the abridged version cannot adequately tell the complicated story or fully demonstrate the characters' emotional colors and complexity.

Now, after three years' hard work, reconstructing lost portions of script, and elaborate set design, the Shanghai Kunqu Opera House will present a first unabridged, 10-hour version of the opera.

It will run from May 29 to June 15 at the Lyceum Theater.

Kunqu Opera originated in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, about 600 years ago, and is one of the world's oldest operas. It is quite different from Peking Opera and is more elegant and melodic, involving few martial arts. It usually features imperial court life.

Kunqu Opera is on UNESCO's list of "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity."

Adapted from the Hong Sheng script - written especially for Kunqu Opera - in the late 17th century, the opera tells the famous tragic love story of Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) of the Tang Dynasty and his beloved imperial consort Yang Yuhuan.

He founded the "Pear Garden," or Liyuan, the first known opera troupe in China, mostly for his personal pleasure. The emperor was so deeply in love with Yang that he neglected affairs of state, and unknownst to him, trouble was brewing on the border among his own troops, led by General An Lushan, an adopted son of consort Yang. They had broken through a pass and approached the capital.

The emperor and consort must flee. But rebellious troops escorting the emperor force him to abdicate and put consort Yang to death.

In the original, they swear to be reunited in the afterlife, and before the emperor dies, a shaman brings them together. A very long tale.

The original version by Hong consists of 50 scenes, but only a few are performed today while many have been lost. The Shanghai Kunqu Opera House filled the void and reconstructed the scenes through research and consultation with opera artists and experts.

The full version will run 10 hours - two and a half hours for each episode. Opera fans can either enjoy the full version over weekends or view four episodes separately on four weekday evenings.

The performance will also produce the English-Chinese script, cartoon books and academic studies on the classic. The opera will be filmed for archives and the performance shown later.

Palace of Eternal Youth
Date: May 29, June 5, June 12, 7:15pm; June 2, June 9, 3pm
Venue: Lyceum Theater, 57 Maoming Nanlu
Tickets: 100-600 yuan
Tel: 021-62172426/62173055