Chinese Kun Opera Masterpiece 'The Peony Pavilion' Opens UCLA Live's Fifth International Theatre Festival Sept. 29–Oct. 1
While this groundbreaking 16th-century opera has been seen in the United States in three previous incarnations, Kenneth Pai's 2004 production is regarded as the most faithful modern restoration of the original kun opera to date.
Published: Friday, August 25, 2006
This article was first published by UCLA News. http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=7266
Date: August 24, 2006
Contact: Holly Wallace ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
UCLA Live kicks off its Fifth International Theatre Festival with one of the world's landmark operas, the 400-year-old Chinese masterpiece "The Peony Pavilion," written and produced by Kenneth Pai, directed by Wang Shiyu and performed by the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province in its Los Angeles debut. This abridged version of the original sweeping text, a Chinese love story often compared to "Romeo and Juliet," is presented in three parts over three nights.
Book I, "The Dream of Love," will be performed 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 29; Book II, "Romance and Resurrection," at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 30; and Book III, "Reunion and Triumph," at 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 1 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. Each performance is approximately three hours long, including an intermission, and can be enjoyed as a single event or as part of a three-part series. For tickets, call (310) 825-2101 or visit http://www.uclalive.org.
While this groundbreaking 16th-century opera has been seen in the United States in three previous incarnations, Pai's 2004 production is regarded as the most faithful modern restoration of the original kun opera to date. A world-renowned Chinese novelist who has been a professor of Chinese literature and cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Kenneth Pai wrote and produced this version of the Ming Dynasty opera. Director Wang Shiyu is an internationally renowned kun opera artist and former director of Zhejiang Peking and Kun Opera Arts Theatre. The cast includes 12 young actors and singers trained at the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province. Suzhou is the birthplace of kun opera (also called kunqu, literally the songs of kun), the oldest living operatic tradition in China.
"The Peony Pavilion" is the finest example of kun opera, a 500-year-old art form that combines literature, music, dance and drama with extraordinary purity and precision. Often compared to its more flashy descendant Peking opera, kun forgoes elaborate stage settings in favor of colorful makeup, extravagant headgear and striking handmade costumes that emphasize performers' movements, mirroring the elegance of calligraphic brush strokes.
Kun opera's long, melodious arias, accompanied chiefly by the bamboo flute, in addition to other woodwind and plucked string instruments, are valued not only for the notes that are played, but also for the librettos that continue to be read as literary works of art. Complementing the lyricism and beauty of the music are the flawless dancing and acting styles, where even the simplest movements have been precisely choreographed and handed down through generations.
"The Peony Pavilion" was originally written in 1598 by Tang Xianzu, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and shares "Romeo and Juliet's" power and magic of youthful love which triumphs over social convention. Considered the most beautiful love story in Chinese literature, "The Peony Pavilion" was radical for its time, given its celebration of eroticism, female sexuality and power, and marriage forged by love. The opera, written during the time of Confucian orthodoxy, challenged the strict codes of rationality, moral correctness and social etiquette that predominated. Tang Xianzu, a member of a new breed of thinkers, believed in the primacy of innate human emotion rather than a restrictive moral code.
The story of "The Peony Pavilion" revolves around the passion between Liu Mengmei, a handsome young student, and Du Liniang, the daughter of a high official who has an erotic dream about Liu Mengmei only to discover upon awakening that her lover was a mere fantasy; she literally dies of a broken heart. Meanwhile Liu Mengmei, who simultaneously had dreamed of Du Liniang, becomes enraptured by her beauty when he accidentally discovers the girl's self-portrait hidden in her family's garden. Although Du Liniang is now a ghost, the two make love and agree to marry. Liu Mengmei has his lover disinterred, despite the risk of execution for grave robbery. Her body becomes flesh again. Moved by the deep love between Liu Mengmei and Du Liniang, the emperor pardons Liu Mengmei's actions and orders the lovers to marry, an unorthodox decision at a time when arranged marriages were the accepted custom. In short, it is a story of the triumph of love.
Unlike recent contemporary productions of the opera, which fused kun music with other regional Chinese or modern musical genres, the score for Pai's version uses Tang Xianzu's lyrics, which are accompanied by period instruments. The music primarily consists of arias with dialogue and asides interwoven. And unlike Peking opera, in which dance is incidental, kun opera makes dance an integral element, with the performers wearing long white sleeves that amplify their movement.
Countering the tradition or putting veteran performers in the leading roles, Pai selected two young stars from the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province — Shen Fengying in the role of Du Liniang and Yu Jiuling in the role of Liu Mengmei — in order to more accurately portray the story of young love as well as attract younger audiences. Both artists trained at the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province, a troupe renowned for its classical methods and unique location near Kunshan, the birthplace of kun opera.
"The Peony Pavilion: Young Lovers' Edition" had its world premiere at the National Theatre in Taipei, Taiwan, in April 2004, followed by performances in Hsinchu, Taiwan; Hong Kong; Suzhou; Hangzhou; Beijing; Shanghai; Macau; Tianjin and Nanjing, among other Chinese cities.
The U.S. engagement of "The Peony Pavilion" also includes performances at the University of California, Berkeley's Cal Performances (American premiere, Sept. 15–17); UC Irvine (Sept. 22–24); and UC Santa Barbara (Oct. 6–8).
The UCLA Center for Chinese Studies, in conjunction with UCLA Live, will present free 20-minute pre-performance talks one hour prior to each performance, for ticket holders only. The talks will take place in 314 Royce Hall, and will be conducted by Susan Jain Pertel, Richard Strassberg and Haiping Yan. Seating is limited. For reservations, call (310) 825-3827.
UCLA Live's 2006–07 Fifth International Theatre Festival
· Friday–Sunday, Sept. 29–Oct. 1. The Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province, in its Los Angeles debut, performs "The Peony Pavilion."
· Saturday–Sunday, Sept. 30–Oct. 8. Playwright and performer Heather Woodbury's world premiere of "Tale of 2Cities" is a time-traversing, two-part saga that looks at the Brooklyn Dodgers' move to Los Angeles from New York in 1957 and the lasting effect it has had on three generations of characters from both locales.
· Wednesday–Sunday, Oct. 11–15. The L.A premiere of Andrew Dawson's "Absence and Presence," an award-winning entry at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival, is an eloquent and sometimes funny meditation using sculpture, video, mime and Dawson's father's letters to reflect on grief, regret and the unique emotions brought on by the death of a parent.
· Tuesday–Sunday, Nov. 7–12. The Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland usher in the Samuel Beckett Centenary Celebration with their performance of "Access All Beckett: Five Dramatic Recitals of Prose and One Late Drama," featuring celebrated actor Conor Lovett.
· Wednesday–Sunday, Nov. 15–19. The Beckett Centenary continues as the Gate Theatre Dublin returns to Los Angeles with their definitive version of "Waiting for Godot," an encore engagement featuring the original director and most of the original cast.
· Tuesday–Sunday, Nov. 28–Dec. 10. Mabou Mines' "DollHouse," in its West Coast premiere, is an OBIE Award-winning adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's original text, directed by the iconoclastic Lee Breuer. Set amid furniture of dollhouse-sized proportions, men (portrayed by actors less than 4-and-a-half feet tall) dominate women (played by actresses nearly 6 feet tall) in a surrealistic feminist anthem.
· Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 12, 14, 16 and 17. Canada's acclaimed experimental theater company STO Union unites actors, writers, architects and video artists to cultivate new forms of theatrical expression. "Revolutions in Therapy" is a multimedia work questioning psychoanalysis, religion and capitalism.
· Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 13, 15, 16 and 17. STO Union's "Recent Experiences" is the story of a family's four generations and their journey through the 20th century, performed with the audience intimately seated at a large table surrounding the actors. Very limited seating available.
The UCLA Live International Theatre Festival is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.
Tickets for "The Peony Pavilion" are available for $65, $46 and $30 per part; the three-part series can be purchased at a 15 percent discount, for $175 and $126. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.uclalive.org, in person at the UCLA Central Ticket Office at the southwest corner of the James West Alumni Center, by calling (310) 825-2101 and at all Ticketmaster outlets.UCLA students may purchase tickets in advance for $17. Student rush tickets, subject to availability, are offered at the same price to all students with a valid ID one hour prior to showtime.
UCLA Live is an internationally acclaimed producer and presenter of music, dance, theater and spoken word, bringing hundreds of outstanding and provocative artists to Los Angeles each year.