Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Kunqu Opera -- The 'Mother Of 100 Operas' And An UNESCO World Heritage Art Form -- To Receive Government Support In The City Of Its Birth

"Kunqu, one of the oldest genres of opera in the world, will be protected by regulation in Suzhou, where the delicate art form originated more than 500 years ago.

The regulation will be the first of its kind made by a local government aiming to preserve a special kind of intangible cultural heritage in China. A draft regulation is awaiting approval from the city's legislature and is expected to be enacted by the end of this year.

To retain the originality of the century-old opera, Suzhou's regulations will protect the performing art of Kunqu, the stage arrangement, Kunqu's unique singing skills, and objects relating to the performance of Kunqu, including costumes, musical instruments, props, important literature, and localities.

The regulations also define the city government's responsibility to promote Kunqu in schools and universities, so as to cultivate a new generation of Kunqu audience.

Basic knowledge about the opera will be taught in elementary and secondary schools, while art schools and universities will open classes for young Kunqu fans.

In addition, the government is obliged to develop a favorable environment for Kunqu's revival by setting up special funds, arranging performances, and hosting cultural exchange activities for the opera.

Dubbed as "the mother of 100 operas," Kunqu is known for its superb artistry. It is performed in the local dialect of Kunshan of Suzhou City in eastern China Jiangsu Province and was especially favored by nobles in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

However, the opera has been in decline in the 20th century, when China was jolted by the Japanese invasion and domestic war.

In 2001, Kunqu opera was listed a "masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The Chinese government initiated a program to rescue and rejuvenate Kunqu in 2005, planning to allocate 10 million yuan (US$1.25 million) a year to eight major Kunqu troupes in China from 2005 to 2009."

Xinhua News Agency "Home of Kunqu Opera Considers Regs to Protect the Future" July 17, 2006 via china.org.cn [Official Government Briefing and Spokesperson System]


Scene from 600 year old Chinese Kunqu Opera.

While American students study Kung Fu martial arts, Chinese students will be studying Kunqu Opera.

Photo credit: Xinhua News Agency. With thanks.


UNESCO Proclamation on Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible World Heritage


Kunqu is China's oldest and one of its most influential theatrical traditions. It is performed in many areas of the country. A Kunqu play usually consists of more than 24 scenes - accompanied by arias - with a complex plot and subplots involving human or supernatural elements. The performance usually features 12 actors who employ gestures, pantomime, mock combat and acrobatics, as well as stylized dancing and singing. A small ensemble of wind and string instruments, and percussion instruments accompany the singing and stage action.

Legacies of the Kunqu theatre are librettos from the Ming and Qing periods (1644-1911). When the People's Republic of China was established in 1949, the government set up training academies for traditional theatres, as well as research institutes on traditional music and theatre. The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) suppressed these measures, and in the early 1980s, the Ministry of Culture called on all surviving Kunqu actors, as well as actors from other traditional theatres, to resume their acting careers. New actors were also recruited and trained.

Threats: The lack of a consistent programme for Kunqu performances, which, since 1990, have only been staged sporadically.

Action plan: The Opera Research Institute envisages the collection and publication of scripts, photographs, and audio and video recordings of Kunqu performances. The government plans to support th e six existing Kunqu opera houses and the training of new performers, the revival of rarely performed operas, and the organization of festivals."


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