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Literary character gets new lease of life

By Zhang Kun in Shanghai | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-09-11 08:29

Yun from Shen Fu's autobiography Six Chapters of a Floating Life, was recently brought to life in a Kunqu Opera.

One of the loveliest women in Chinese literature, Yun in Shen Fu's autobiography Six Chapters of a Floating Life, recently had her life story told in a Kunqu Opera play by Shanghai Grand Theatre.

The first production of SGT, Six Chapters of a Floating Life was premiered in the theater on July 13. A major project supported by the Shanghai Cultural Development Foundation, the play is the first production solely by SGT.

In May when the production was announced and box-office sales kicked off, the tickets sold out for the premiere night within 28 hours.

The Shanghai-based Xinmin Evening News praised the play to be "a highly aesthetic new Kunqu Opera production, deeply rooted in the tradition, without losing relevance to the contemporary view of beauty".

Literary character gets new lease of life

Encouraged by the success of the premiere, SGT has decided to present a second round of performances over Nov 22-24.

"We hope to add the play to our repertoire so that it can go on to be staged for many years to come," says Zhang Xiaoding, the general manager of SGT.

Shen Fu (1763-1825) recounted his life in Suzhou with his wife, Chen Yun, in the autobiographical book Six Chapters of a Floating Life.

In the book he recalled the happiness of ordinary family life, the casual discussions with his wife about literature and art, the experience of traveling together and of enduring hardships and poverty, until losing his wife to illness away from home.

The book has been popular in China since the late 19th century, and loved for its vivid writing and the deep emotions.

Six Chapters of a Floating Life has been translated into many languages.

Renowned Chinese author and scholar Lin Yutang (1895-1976) was the first to translate the book into English in 1936. And in his introduction Lin wrote that "Yun, I think, is one of the loveliest women in Chinese literature... in this simple story of two guileless creatures in search of beauty, living a life of poverty and privations, decidedly outwitted by life and their cleverer fellowmen, yet determined to snatch every moment of happiness and always fearful of the jealousy of the gods, I seem to see the essence of a Chinese way of life as really lived by two persons who happened to be husband and wife."

The SGT made the decision two years ago to adapt the book into a Kunqu Opera play, aiming to present "with modern aesthetics the classical sentiments of an immortal book through Kunqu, the most brilliant gem of ancient Chinese theater art," says Zhang.

"We hope to lead audiences on a journey from the texts in the book to the theater stage, and bring Shen Fu and Yun to life.

"We want to take their dream for an ideal life of the literati to the contemporary age, and make it relevant to everyone," says Zhang.

"In the past we had numerous collaborations with artistic institutions such as the Shanghai Ballet and Shanghai Opera House, but this is the first production for which we have full copyright."

SGT brought together veteran artists from the Nanjing-based Jiangsu Kunqu Opera Theater, young playwright Luo Zhou and theater director Ma Junfeng, to create the original Kunqu Opera play from the autobiographical prose. Luo says that prior to the premiere she was most touched by the sadness Shen Fu expressed upon losing his wife. "So I decided to start the play as a recollection: Yun has died when the curtain rises, and Shen sits in loneliness waiting for her soul to come back."

In this way she presents how Shen Fu writes down everything that happened between him and his wife, turning their brief life into work which is immortal.

"I wanted to write about how literature, beauty and love transcend the boundaries between life and death," she says.

Li Hongliang, the head of the Jiangsu Kunqu Opera Theater, worked as the artistic director of the production. He and veteran Kunqu artists Shi Xiaomei and Hu Jinfang coached young performers Shi Xiaming, Shan Wen and You Tengteng in Kunqu singing and choreography, ensuring that the production retained the true essence of the traditional art form.

 Literary character gets new lease of life

Kunqu Opera play Six Chapters of a Floating Life is brought to audience in Shanghai in an attempt to take the hero and heroine's dream for an ideal life of the literati to the contemporary age, and make it relevant to everyone. Photos provided to China Daily

Literary character gets new lease of life

(China Daily Global 09/11/2019 page16)

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