Unravelling the mysteries of Ancient Chinese Opera. 梦着昆曲的美梦。

in art •  last year

I've always loved China's classical art and literature, the picture is of me and my cousin wearing ancient traditional costumes.
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我一直深爱中国古代的文学艺术,图中是我和表妹圆梦的古装造型。

What is Kunqu Opera?

Kunqu Opera is one of China's oldest forms of Chinese Opera. It is also one of China's art and cultural heritage treasures and is recognised of the progenitor acrobatics. Kunqu Opera is listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2001.

Originating from the Suzhou area, Kunqu opera began it's life as a folk a Capella and soon become widespread in the southern areas of China. Kunqu opera is not only valued for it's vocals, but also it's literary content. It's merits have taken Kunqu to the highest peaks of Chinese operatic literature.

Owing to the high degree of appreciation for Kunqu opera in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, it's development reached its peak around the 18th Century. It gradually declined in popularity up to the late Qing Dynasty, as more Kunqu performers turned to Beijing Opera instead.

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什么是昆曲?
昆曲(Kun Opera)是中国最古老的剧种之一,也是中国传统文化艺术中的珍品,拥有百戏之祖的称号。昆曲在2001年被联合国教科文组织列为“人类口述和非物质遗产代表作”。昆曲起源于中国苏州一带,一开始是民间清唱,但之后渐渐流行于整个中国南方。因为昆曲不仅具有声腔价值,还具备文学价值,昆曲的文学脚本是中国戏曲文学的一座高峰。由于昆腔拥有很高的欣赏度,18世纪前明清时代是昆曲发展的鼎盛时期,到了清代晚期逐渐走向没落,很多昆曲大家开始转向京剧表演。

Kunqu Opera's relation to Beijing Opera

Kunqu is known as the quintessence of Chinese Opera and is one of the firm foundations leading to Beijing Opera. Within a Beijing opera, there are many elements brought over from Kunqu, the vocals, and the acting style. In fact, every Beijing Opera performer must study and lay their foundations through Kunqu opera.

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昆曲与京剧的关系
京剧被誉为中国的国粹,而中国戏曲之母昆曲却是京剧的来源之一。京剧里面有大量的昆曲唱腔和昆曲表演,昆曲的基础是每一个京剧演员必备的。

Key features of Kunqu

I've always been very interested in Kunqu Opera, from it's strong lyricism, to it's delicate dancing and singing. All elements combined to give a gracious and harmonious resonance. The overall coordination of these factors are what gives Kunqu it's beautiful picture.

Kunqu Opera inherits much of it's dance from traditional folk dance and court dance. For a dancer like myself, I am fascinated by it's style and origin, for me, it is undoubtedly a great enjoyment as well as a learning process.

Kunqu also carries with it an inherited Wu dialect which originated from the south. It is considered a pleasant and sweet sounding dialect, whether in narrative or scenery, spoken or sung, the dance is always coupled with the vocals for perfect compliment. The strong story driving the Kunqu is what fascinates many foreigners, many watching once and falling in love right away.

Amereican Student learning Kunqu / 美国学生学习昆曲
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Credit to ncku.edu.tw
昆曲的特点
我一直非常感兴趣于欣赏昆曲艺术,它的抒情性强、动作细腻,歌唱与舞蹈的身段结合得巧妙而谐和,这些因素整体配合,总能营造出一种唯美的画面。昆剧的戏曲舞蹈多方吸收和继承了古代民间舞蹈、宫廷舞蹈的传统,这对于喜欢舞蹈的我来说,无疑是莫大的享受和学习过程。同时它的语音带有吴侬软语柔和的南方口音,无论叙事还是写景,念白说唱与舞蹈的紧密结合,故事性非常强,就连不少外国友人都看得津津有味甚至爱上了昆曲。

A visit to Nanke's Dream

I was very lucky to get an opportunity to come to the Beijing National Grand Theatre which is located west of Tiananmen Square in Central Beijing. This venue holds the highest regard amongst the Chinese national performing arts. It is also the largest Sino-foreign exchange platform serving as a base for the Chinese cultural and creative industries.

The building is oval shaped, and looks a bit like a spaceship, Because of it's quite uncanny appearance, it clashes with the surrounding environment and yet retains its eye catching qualities. Like a castle with a moat, it was built in the middle of the lake, and surrounded by water. It could be described as a pearl, other's will describe it like a shell. Whichever, the Grand Theatre itself, represents an end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.

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走进《南柯梦记》的梦幻人生
这一次很高兴有机会来到了北京的国家大剧院,它位于北京市中心天安门广场西侧,是中国国家表演艺术的最高殿堂,中外文化交流的最大平台,中国文化创意产业的重要基地。它的外形非常特别,椭圆外形在长安街上显得像个“天外来客”,与周遭环境的冲突让它显得十分抢眼。它建在湖中央,象湖中明珠,又象“蛋壳”,里面孕育着生命,大剧院代表了一个时代的结束与另一个新的时代的开始。

Nanke's Dream is the story of how it's main protagonist - Chunyu Fen, fell asleep one day as he was drinking alcohol. Whilst asleep, he dreamt that he entered Huaian Empire where he became acquainted with the Ant Emperor as well as the emperor's daughter. The Ant Emperor offered his daughters hand in marriage to which Chunyu Fen could not refuse.. For he and the princess fell deeply in love. An so, for 20 years, Chunyu Fen was the governor of Nanke (a prosperous state of the empire), and lived a rich and glamorous life. Much later, the princess died, and Chunyu Fen gradually lost his influence and was eventually repatriated back from whence he came. Chunyu Fen suddenly awakes, only to realise that the last 20 years of his life, all the good as well as the grief and sorrow was all but a dream. Chunyu Fen finally understands the depths of love and hate in this world, but couldn't accept the fact that his princess was no longer of this world. This realisation empowered his decision to become a Buddhist.

This opera was written by the famous Ming Dynasty writer called Tang Xianzu and is one of his most recognised works. It's theme, dream and life is known as classical satire.

The stage design exudes neo-classical art and yet incorporates modern artistic flair. The Kunqu really leans on this aesthetic and uses it to maintain a fluid flow.

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Credit to 3lian.com

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《南柯梦记》讲述主人公酒醉后“南柯一梦”入大槐安国,被蚁王召为驸马,与公主非常恩爱,且任职南柯郡太守,二十余年历经富贵荣华,后来随着公主亡故,主人公逐渐失去权势,最终被遣返回家。后来幡然醒来,才知二十多年的欣喜悲哀都不过是在做梦。男主人公体悟自己爱恨的分界,直到最后面对公主的不舍与深情后,终于有所顿悟,立地成佛。该剧是明代著名戏曲家汤显祖的代表作之一,以梦幻写人生,是一部经典的讽世剧作。舞台设计空灵写意,展开昆曲的流动之美。

The costumes in Nanke's Dream

The costumes worn by the actors are mostly hand embroidered. It's styles are inherited from traditional Kunqu Opera's, but have some degree of separation on design. The themes are primarily of China's traditional Celedon as well as Chinese traditional landscape paintings. The styles are what enable the viewer to really believe the Huaian dream state really exists.

The clothes all have landscapes with flowers as their recurring theme. On all the costumes, there was clever and careful consideration of colour used. This is because the patterns and colours must be auspicious but also exude a dream like state on stage.
梦幻般的《南柯梦记》服装
舞台上演员戏服的一针一线大多是那绣娘亲手绣制, 在完全继承传统戏曲服装基础上,另辟蹊径,以中国传统青瓷与山水画为元素,构造出不属于人世的“梦幻槐安”特色。以山水花鸟构成服装元素,巧妙运用配色与传统吉祥图案进行创新,令《南柯梦》的舞台色彩上,不仅有着传统的古典韵味,更多了一些“美梦”般的绚丽多姿。

Celedon costume / 青瓷服饰
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Credit to 3lian.com

Landscape paintings on the opera costumes / 戏服上的山水画
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Credit to 3lian.com
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Credit to yczihua.com

Silk Yarn hand embroidered in various flower patterns all over the cloak.
Combined with light pink and an embroidered pleated skirt, this outfit is tender yet beautiful.
用丝线绽放的花朵刺绣在粉色斗篷上,配淡粉色刺绣百褶裙很娇艳。
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Credit to 3lian.com

A blue base with grass embroidery and white collar. Shows dignity and is simple yet elegant.
蓝色底子兰草刺绣和白色立领戏服,端庄素雅。
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Credit to 3lian.com
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Credit to zihua01.com

Peacock designs on the costumes as well as flowers.
戏服上的孔雀和花朵小鸟
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Credit to 3lian.com

Some shots of the protagonist and the princess getting married, as well as showing his visit to the whore house after his wife has passed away.
男女主人公结婚的画面和男主人公在妻子逝去后去妓院消遣
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Credit to 3lian.com

The protagonist dances with paragraphs of silk, in a bid to farewell for his princess. As seen in the picture, it has an intense effect on stage.
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Credit to 3lian.com
男女主人公诀别的段落的绸舞,有更强烈的舞台效果。

Tang Xianzu's play embodies many aspects of Buddhism, as such, the accompanying music has strong elements of Buddhist music to complement. This integration of Buddhist music, although unconventional to Kunqu Opera, gave the Opera it's own unique flavor.
在剧目的配乐上,更几处关节上加入了佛教音乐元素以突出汤显祖在剧本中所想体现出的禅意。设计旋律与传统曲牌相融合,使得韵味更浓。

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sweetsssj, Thank you, great post, love Chinese tradition and learning more about it as I have here! :)

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Thank you for checking it out, I hope more people can learn something about Chinese traditions through my posts. It's an honour!

awesome presentation!

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It was an awesome show, hard to do it full justice.

Thank you for the work you've put into this --- a beautiful post to read in the morning.

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Thank you richardjuckes, i'm glad you could get through it in just the morning. Took me all night to write up! :)

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Well, I was only reading one of the languages.

昆曲现在好像成了国内有钱有闲阶级的新宠啊:)

甜心妹妹的帖子值得看,值得顶!

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谢谢fly哥啦^_^

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fly哥,听起来有点,呃呃呃

你和表妹的古装造型很美,赞一个!

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哈哈,好多年前照的~谢谢你哟^_^

Great story and wonderful images. Bravo!

中国的文化真的是博大精深啊。

前几年看了白先勇的青春版牡丹亭,很赞