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April 17, 2021

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Traditional opera back in vogue in historical venues

For many lovers of traditional Kunqu Opera “The Peony Pavilion,” a century-old mansion in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming has emerged as a go-to place to enjoy the classical romance.

Since 2018, 39 performances of the opera have been staged in Ma’s Courtyard, a Bai ethnic-style mansion built in 1923, and were well-received among opera lovers.

Zheng Siqi, a sophomore at Yunnan University, has seen the performance four times. “Compared with theaters, I believe the very setting of the courtyard can help audiences better understand characters’ moods in the opera,” Zheng said.

“It used to be a tradition for Chinese families to invite performers to put on operas in their courtyards during family celebrations,” said Zheng. “Watching the same opera the way our ancestors did centuries ago invoked a deep sense of national identity.”

Kunqu, a Chinese opera with a history of hundreds of years, is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as an intangible cultural heritage. The opera combines instrumental music, vocal performance, mime and dance.

For quite a long time, traditional opera had fallen out of favor among the young generation, who were more attracted to modern appeals such as movies and digital entertainment.

In recent years, more and more producers have chosen to stage traditional operas in historical venues such as old courtyards, a move proven popular among young people who seek to reconnect with their cultural roots.

“I attribute the success of the performance in a large part to a retro feel created by both the opera and the historical venue,” said Zhao Xiaocai, producer of “The Peony Pavilion.”

Like Kunqu, Gui Opera, a traditional opera that originated about 200 years ago in the city of Guilin in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, has been back in vogue in recent years.

In 2017, “Theatrical Guilin,” a Gui Opera production, premiered in a historical courtyard in a tourist attraction in Guilin and immediately became a hit.

“In 2019 alone, the play was staged more than 200 times at the courtyard, with an almost full house each time,” said Zhou Qiang, a producer of the performance.

Liu Hui, director of a traditional opera research center in Guilin, said: “The combination of traditional opera and courtyard caters to the trend of retro fashion in China.”


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