Kunqu Opera is a traditional Chinese opera with long history. In 2001, Kunqu Opera was listed as a Matserpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
History of Kunqu Opera
Kunqu Opera began during the early Ming Dynasty. Its style originates from the Kunshan diao (a distinct musical melody from the area of Kunshan) and played a very significant role in Chinese theatre from the 16th to 18th century. The most well-known pioneer of Kunqu Opera was Gu Jian, a playwright born in late Yuan Dynasty. During the Ming Dynasty, another playwright, Wei Liangfu adapted the Kunshan Melody and added cultural elements, entering Kunqu Opera into its golden age.
Features of Kunqu Opera
The tune of Kunqu Opera is especially mild, graceful and melodious. The singing skills focus on the control of the voice, rhythm and speed as well as articulation. Moreover, Kunqu Opera has its own style of elaborate performance, involving singing and dancing. The roles withina Kunqu Opera are all very different and specific. There were originally only 12 roles but 8 more have since been added and are all typical of the classic Chinese opera roles (sheng-male roles; dan-female roles; jing-roles with painted faces; chou or clown/comic character).
Dramatists and Plays of Kunqu Opera
The most well-known dramatist of Kunqu Opera is Tang Xianzu of the Ming Dynasty who was renowned for his plays. He wrote his first traditional Chinese opera "The Purple Hairpin" in 1577, "Peony Pavilion" in 1598, "A Dream under the Southern Bough" in 1600 and "The Handan Dream" in 1601. Each of the four operas describes a romance story with all four stories being extremely popular at that time.
Another popular Kunqu Opera playwright was Kong Shangren who was best known for his play "The Peach Blossom Fan". According to records, Kong Shangren was a 64th generation descendant of Confucius. "The Peach Blossom Fan" indicated the end of Southern Ming through a love story between a scholar and a courtesan.
In addition, Hong Sheng a playwright of the Qing Dynasty, wrote a famous Kunqu Opera play named "The Palace of Eternal Life", a love story between Lady Yang (Yang Yuhuan) and Emperor Ming of the Tang Dynasty (Li Longji).
There are still a number of other famous dramatists of Kunqu Opera including Feng Menglong and Li Yu among others. Many widespread plays such as The White Snake, The Western Mansion, The Injustice to Dou E and The Kite are also well-known Chinese traditional Kunqu Operas.