June 13th marked China’s 10th annual Cultural Heritage Day. And one special performance at the Forbidden City Concert hall celebrated one of the country’s intangible cultural heritage, the Kunqu opera. Performed by the Northern Kunqu Opera Theater, the repertoire brings out a different side of the ancient art form — Songs of the heroes and the emperors.
Gone are the star-crossed lovers and the secret rendezvous in the garden. This selection of Kunqu opera is all about the valiant — revealing the masculine side of the 600-year-old art form.
“Kunqu is not just about romance, like what you see in “the Peony Pavilion”. There’s also another picture, and stories about heroes and emperors, the rise and fall of the dynasties. So tonight’s performance is a fitting celebration for the Cultural Heritage Day, to show something new in the old art form. For example you’ll be able to see characters like Wusheng or the young warriors who specialized in kung fu and acrobatics. A very different experience,” said Hou Shaokui, kunqu opera artist, Northern Kunqu Opera Theater.
For some in the audience, this has truly been an eye-opener.
Kunqu is one of the oldest forms of opera still existing in China.
It has distinguished itself by its rhythmic patterns and has exerted a dominant influence on all the more recent forms of opera in China, including Peking opera.
In 2001, UNESCO proclaimed it as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
In the last decade, Kunqu opera seems to have entered a boom, even surpassing the popularity of Peking opera.
And it continues to gain an audience, especially among the younger generation.
“I’ve just finished a lecture in Peking University and the students there are very keen on knowing more about Kunqu opera, like its history, the different types of characters. They can appreciate Kunqu opera and they have the ability to promote and preserve the ancient art form. They hold the key to the future of Kunqu opera,” Hou said.
The Northern Kunqu Opera Theater will stage another rendition at the Forbidden City Concert Hall on June 16.