Chinese Kun Opera Masterpiece ‘The Peony Pavilion’ Opens UCLA Live’s Fifth International Theatre Festival Sept. 29–Oct. 1
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
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, "
While this groundbreaking 16th-century
opera has been seen in the
"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
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
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.
UCLA Live's 2006–07 Fifth International Theatre Festival
Sept. 29–Oct. 1. The Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province,
· 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
· 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.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 13, 15, 16 and 17. STO
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.
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