Kunqu Opera

Kunqu Opera is one of the oldest forms of opera still existing in China, with its origins dating back to the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and beginning of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Kunshan, a place near Suzhou of today’s Zhejiang Province.

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Kunqu Opera has a history much longer than Beijing Opera. It is held in great respect and is regarded as the sister opera of Beijing Opera. Kunqu was shown to the royal or wealthy families only. Its music is much softer and similar from play to play. The dialogue is more poetical and refined. Kunqu is famous for its music and its poetical & romantic style. It will be rare to have any military roles or acrobatic actions in a Kunqu play.

The dancing and movement of a role is gentle and closely connected with the player’s singing. The music instruments used for Kunqu is different from Beijing Opera. Perfectly matching the poetry style of the play, Flute is used as the main accompanying instrument instead of something with strings. Others are bamboo-pipe-composed Sheng, Erhu and Pipa

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Kunqu Opera was artistically refined over a period of some 200 years to stand out prominently among the various competing schools of operas for its “delicate tunes and elegant melodies”.

With Suzhou as its base, Kunqu Opera soon became popular both at home and abroad. However, when China entered the modern age, Kunqu Opera underwent a gradual decline from its zenith and finally lost favor among its audience, due to the rapid and dramatic social changes. Yet it survived and remains the most influential traditional Chinese opera.

Kunqu Opera is a synthesis of poems, music, dance, acting, makeup, costumes, props and sets. Its value is embodied in this comprehensive cultural breadth. In essence, Kunqu Opera is a melodious language art with a dramatized singing style.

Today, Kunqu is performed professionally in seven Mainland Chinese cities: Beijing (Northern Kunqu Theatre), Shanghai (Shanghai Kunqu Theatre), Suzhou (Suzhou Kunqu Theatre), Nanjing (Jiangsu Province Kunqu Theatre), Chenzhou (Hunan Kunqu Theatre), Yongjia County/Wenzhou (Yongjia Kunqu Theatre) and Hangzhou (Zhejiang Province Kunqu Theatre).

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Plays that continue to be famous today, including The Peony Pavilion 牡丹亭 and The Peach Blossom Fan, were originally written for the Kunqu stage. In addition, many classical Chinese novels and stories, such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin and Journey to the West were adapted very early into dramatic pieces.

Look out for an upcoming article about The Peony Pavilion 牡丹亭 and why is it so famous throughout the century.

Vocabulary:

kūn  qǔ
昆      曲          kunqu opera          n.
yuán cháo

元      朝          Yuan Dynasty        n.

mǔ dān tíng
牡 丹  亭               The Peony Pavilion                             n.






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