Recorded 16 April 2010
Translated and annotated by Kim Hunter Gordon
Cai Zhengren 蔡正仁 (b. 1941) of the Shanghai Troupe [Appendix I] is arguably the best-known active sheng 生, famed especially for his portrayal of daguansheng 大官 生 roles, such as the emperor in The Palace of Lasting Life (Changsheng dian 長生殿) as well as for qiongsheng 窮生 parts. A student of Yu Zhenfei 俞振飛 [Appendix H], and former leader of the Shanghai Troupe, he was awarded the Plum Blossom Prize (Meihua jiang 梅花獎) in 1986.
For the general background to The Palace of Lasting Life see Lecture 5. In this scene, the emperor, still in exile in Sichuan, continues to be tortured by grief and regret following the death of Precious Consort Yang Guifei 楊貴妃. He has commissioned a sculpture of her likeness which is now ready to be instated.
The role of the emperor, Tang Minghuang 唐明皇, belongs to the broad category of sheng 生 or xiaosheng 小生, the narrower category of guansheng 官生 and, most narrowly, daguansheng 大官生, which is reserved for high officials as well as the emperor. Although bearded and in this case elderly, the singing register remains partially falsetto like that of most sheng rather than the purely modal voice used by other bearded roles. In the lecture, Cai Zhengren specifically warns against the risk of giving the appearance of low status when adopting a more elderly gait, since the gravitas of the role means that movements must have a certain amplitude, which he also contrasts with the smaller movements of the comic xiaohualian 小花臉 or chou 丑, who features in this scene in the person of the palace eunuch Gao Lishi 高力士. Given the emperor's miserable frame of mind, however, he does borrow some movements from the qiongsheng 窮生 role type, which is used to depict sheng fallen on hard times.
Cai Zhengren's performance is available in a 1992 recording, collected in the first volume of Kunju Collection (Kunju xuanji 崑劇選輯), published in Taiwan.