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Acclaimed author Pai Hsien-yung spearheads Kunqu programme to launch Chinese Opera Festival 2012

     The Chinese Opera Festival 2012, presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, will start in June. Opening the festival are the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre from Jiangsu Province, who will perform under the consultancy of internationally acclaimed author Pai Hsien-yung.

     The performances carry special meaning as they will take place under the revived Kunqu mentoring tradition. Pai invited some highly esteemed veterans of the genre - Cai Zhengren, Wang Shiyu, Liang Guyin and Zhang Jingxian - to teach talented young actors the performance techniques for two Kunqu classics, "The Story of the West Chamber (Southern Qu)" and "The Palace of Eternal Life". It was hoped that these classics would effectively perpetuate the genre. Commenting on the preparation work, Pai said, "It was a gargantuan and costly feat, as all those involved had to devote a lot of time and energy for the training. But the venerable teachers were willing to pass their expertise and insights to the younger generation. It was obvious that they were of one mind to keep a great heritage and a grand tradition going by contributing their artistic best."

     In 2004, Pai began staging a youth version of "The Peony Pavilion" using handpicking young actors trained at the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre of Jiangsu Province. The most important aspect of the project was the revival of the mentoring tradition. Pai worked on the next phase of this revival in 2009 by staging "The Story of the Jade Hairpin". For the festival's opening programme on June 15, Lu Jia, who trained under Liang Guyin, will perform with Yu Jiulin and Zhu Yingyuan in "The Story of the West Chamber (Southern Qu)", one of the best loved Kunqu plays. The play requires the highest standards in terms of both its musical score and its dramatic acting. As always, the play's young couple and the lady's chambermaid will be adored by the audience for their lively and intelligent characterisation.

     For the second evening performance (June 16), Zhou Xuefeng and Shen Fenying will perform "The Palace of Eternal Life", for which they trained under Cai Zhengren and Zhang Jingxian. The play, which was written by Hong Sheng during the Qing dynasty, is acclaimed as a dramatic and literary masterpiece, with its music and drama enhancing each other. The emperor's character requires the actor to display an air of royal magnanimity but also the carefree jolliness of a talented artist. The character of the royal consort is equally challenging as she is expected to exhibit an aura of seductive propriety. The songs by the royal couple are a major attraction of this piece, telling a story of love set against the background of a time of change.

     For the excerpt performance on the third night (June 17) many of the classic Kunqu Opera roles are included, and the roles will be performed by young stars of the theatre who have learned the trade from their more exhalted and experienced colleagues. For example, Tao Hongzhen and Qu Binbin learned "Lanke Mountain" from Zhang Jiqing and Yao Jikun; Tang Rong and Shen Guofang learned "Accompany Jinniang for Thousands of Miles" from Hou Shaokui and Qiao Yanhe. Wang Shiyu, acclaimed one of the best artists in Kunqu jinsheng roles, will partner with Wang Fang and Zhang Shizheng in performing the excerpt "Kneeling by the Pond" from "the Lioness Roars".

     As Pai says, "Kunqu is a theatrical art form that requires one-on-one mentoring. Through the training process, both the mentor and the mentee need to put in dedication, zeal, hard work and the sharing of experience. It is the one and only way to perpetuate the art. We can also say therein 'Kunqu' sees new light." These performances in June will surely serve to demonstrate the longevity of the Kunqu traditional performing art.

     Details of the shows are as follows:
June 15 (Friday)
"The Story of the West Chamber (Southern Qu)"
Cast: Yu Jiulin, Lu Jia, Zhu Yingyuan

June 16 (Saturday)
"The Palace of Eternal Life"
Cast: Shen Fengying, Zhou Xuefeng

June 17 (Sunday)
Excerpts of "Cancelling the Birthday Celebrations" from "The Pavilion of Chanting in the Wind", "The Shock of an Ugly Face" from "The Mistake Caused by a Kite", "Forcing Her Hand for a Divorce" from "Lanke Mountain", "Accompanying Jingniang for Thousands of Miles", "Kneeling by the Pond" from "The Lioness Roars"
Cast: Wang Shiyu (Guest), Wang Fang, Zhang Shizheng (Guest), Tao Hongzhen, Zhou Xuefeng, Shen Guofang, Tang Rong, Chen Lingling, Qu Binbin, Liu Chunlin

     All shows will be staged at 7.30pm at the Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Tickets priced at $350, $260, $180 and $100 are now available at all URBTIX outlets, on the Internet and by Telephone Credit Card Booking. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and their minders, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients. (Limited tickets for students and CSSA recipients available on a first-come, first-served basis.) Please refer to programme booklet for group and package booking discount schemes.

     For programme enquiries, please call 2268 7325, or visit For ticketing enquiries, please call 2734 9009. For telephone credit card bookings, please call 2111 5999. For Internet bookings, please visit

     There are various kinds of extension activities to tide in with the performances. Admission is free.

Exhibition: The Art of Kunqu Opera
June 2 – 10 Foyer, Ko Shan Theatre
June 12 – 19 Foyer Exhibition Area, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Talk: "Kunqu" – A Well-honed Art (in Putonghua)
June 13 (Wednesday) 7.30pm
Moderator: Cheng Pei-kai, Director and Professor of Chinese Civilisation Centre, The City University of Hong Kong
Speakers: Pai Hsien-yung, Cai Zhengren, Wang Shiyu
Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Talk: The History and Revival of a "Kunqu" Classic – "The Story of the West Chamber" (Southern "Qu") (in Putonghua)
June 14 (Thursday) 7.30pm
Moderator: Lau Chor-wah, Professor, Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Hong Kong Baptist University
Speakers: Wang Shiyu, Liang Guyin
Venue: Miller Theatre, Asia Society Hong Kong Center

Talk: The Performing Techniques in "The Palace of Eternal Life" and Their Transmission (in Putonghua)
June 17 (Sunday) 2.30pm
Moderator: Cheung Lai-chun ("Kunqu" researcher)
Speakers: Cai Zhengren, Zhang Jingxian
Venue: Lecture Hall, Hong Kong Space Museum

     For registration, please send information about name/organisation name in full, topic and date of the talk, contact number and email address to Limited seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

     The Chinese Opera Festival 2012 is one of the celebration programmes of the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Ends/Wednesday, May 9, 2012


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