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Hua Wenyi 華文漪 (1941–2022) was among the best-known contemporary dan 旦 performers. Part of the first generation of kunqu students trained after the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC), she was a member of the Shanghai Troupe [Appendix I], becoming its director in 1985. While she was on tour with the Shanghai Troupe in the United States, the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown led her to settle in California. In the following decades she became instrumental to the growth of kunqu outside the PRC, performing in several experimental productions, including an avant-garde production of The Peony Pavilion (Mudan ting 牡丹亭) [Appendix F] that premiered in 1998 and was directed by Peter Sellars [Appendix H]. In 1997 she was named a National Heritage Fellow for the US National Endowment for the Arts.
The Peony Pavilion is today the most familiar and iconic kunqu 崑曲 play, and both excerpted scenes and more extended versions represent core repertoire for the main troupes. Written by Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖 [Appendix G], its central figure is Du Liniang 杜麗娘, the 16-year-old daughter of the prefect. The scene that is the subject of Hua's lecture here depicts Du Liniang's visit to the abandoned family garden (“The Stroll in the Garden” [“Youyuan” 遊園]) where she dreams of a young scholar (“The Dream Interrupted” [“Jingmeng” 驚夢]). These two linked scenes, based on scene ten of The Peony Pavilion script, can be performed separately (the two halves have their own song suites), but they are most often performed together, and in this lecture Hua does not strongly differentiate them.
These two scenes are the centerpiece of the play as performed today. A preceding comic scene, known as “Chunxiang Disturbs Class” (“Chunxiang naoxue” 春香鬧學) and “The Schoolroom” (“Xuetang” 學堂), showcases the high spirits of Chunxiang 春香, the heroine's maid, and shows Chunxiang encouraging Du Liniang to distract herself from the ennui of her boudoir.
Wang Shiyao 王世瑤 (1939–2020) was a Zhejiang Troupe performer and the son of Wang Chuansong 王傳淞, a member of the legendary “chuan” generation (chuan zi bei 傳字輩) [both Appendix H] of kunqu 崑曲 performers. Like his father, many of whose roles he inherited, Wang Shiyao was a leading chou 丑 of his era.
Fifteen Strings of Cash (Shiwu Guan 十五貫) is a play by the Suzhou-based, early Qing dramatist Zhu Suchen 朱素臣, drawing on earlier vernacular stories by Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 and Li Yu (II) 李漁 [all Appendix H] that themselves were based on the historical figure Kuang Zhong 况鍾. The version of Fifteen Strings of Cash that is performed onstage today is a heavily revised and abridged 1956 adaptation of Zhu Suchen's version by the Zhejiang Kunqu Troupe (Zhejiang sheng Kunju tuan 浙江省崑劇團) [Appendix I]. This adaptation is considered “a centerpiece of drama reform” (Fox 2019, 385; see also Scott 1969; Ji Hu 1985; Rebull 2017a) and also became a popular xiqu 戲曲 film (Rebull 2017b). Its success was in large part due to the approval of senior People's Republic of China (PRC) officials, including Zhou Enlai (1989, 204), who praised it as “rich in ideological content, because it stigmatizes subjectivism and bureaucratism.”
Wu Xinlei (2002, 120–22) provides a summary of both the full original play and of the individual zhezixi 折子戲 derived from it, as they appear in kunqu repertoire. One of the first translations of any kunqu performance text into English was that of the Foreign Languages Press in 1957, although A. C. Scott's 1969 translation is more widely available (Chu Su-chen 1957; Scott 1969). Scott had seen the play performed in Beijing in 1956 and his text contains one of the earliest extensive descriptions of kunqu in English, providing photographs, extensive stage directions, and descriptions of costumes.
The original Qing script concerns two brothers who are condemned to death because they are falsely accused of complicity in murder cases.
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