Kunqu Performance Saturday June 14, 2008  2:00 pm
Meyer Auditorium, Freer and Sackler Galleries
1100 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C.

Pre-Peformance Lecture: David Rolston

The Butterfly Dream: "Marriage Proposal and Response"
【蝴蝶夢: 說親回話】


The Embroidered Silk Robe: "The Lotus Song"
【繡襦記∶: 蓮花】

The Massacre of Thousands of Loyalists: "The Sorrowful Witness"
【千忠戮: 慘睹 】

This program is a co-production of the Freer and Sackler Galleries and the Wintergreen Kunqu Society. They are made possible, in part, with support from the Wintergreen Kunqu Society and the New York Chinese Opera Society.

Thanks to Ms. Chen Santzu (陳三資)of Pong Yi Qu Ji (蓬瀛曲集), Taiwan, and The Kunqu Society, New York, for assistance in this production.

Cast Musicians Synopsis

Meet the Artists

Production Staff  


The Butterfly Dream:
"Marriage Proposal and Response"

Tian Shi: Liang Guyin  梁谷音
Old Manservant: Lui Yilong     劉異龍

The Embroidered Silk Robe: "The Lotus Song"

Zheng Yuanhe: Wang Taiqi  王泰祺
Li Yaxian: Yang Ling    楊 玲


Bai Yuhui

The Massacre of Thousands of Loyalists:
"The Sorrowful Witness"

Emperor Jianwen: Wen Yuhang  溫宇航
Cheng Ji: Ji Zhenhua    計鎮華
Warden: Wang Youing 王玉清
Warden, Old Subject: Wang Taiqi    王泰祺
Warden, Old Subject: Shan Jing     單 靖
Wardress: Liu Yilong     劉異龍
Female Prisoner: Yang Ling     楊 玲
Female Prisoner: Bai Yuhui      白宇惠


Kunqu Flute (Dizi):

Zhou Ming          周 鳴
Drum and Clappers: Huang Shirong   黃士榮
San Xian: Wang Linsong    王林松
Er Hu: Quo Jinqiang      郭景強
Lute: Sun Hongtao        孫洪濤
Small Gong: Song Bairu          宋百如

Production Staff

Producer: Tong-Ching Chang  張冬青
Co-producer: Charles Wilson
Make-up: Yang Guiyin           楊桂英
Dresser: Yang Xiaoling         楊孝玲
Production Manager: Wen Yuhang          溫宇航 
Backstage: Yuan Yucheng       袁玉成
Libretto Translation: David Ralston        陸大偉
Surtitles: Tong-Ching Chang  張冬青
Photography: Cindy Rodney
Video Camera: Charles Wilson


The Butterfly Dream: A Marriage Proposal and Its Response
A Taoist scholar Zhuangzi spends a lot of time away from home studying, leaving his young wife at home for extended periods of time. On one trip home, he meets a widow fanning her newly dead husband’s grave, and learns that she wants the earth to dry up and harden so that she could remarry, having vowed to her husband that she would not remarry until the earth in his grave dried. During his discussion of this incident with his wife, she swears that she would never want to remarry like the widow at the graveside. Not fully convinced, he decides to test her devotion. He uses his Taoist magic to fake his death and reappear in the guise of a handsome young student, who students who, hearing of Zhuangzi’s death, has come to mourn him. He then transforms a butterfly into an old manservant for the young scholar to act as matchmaker for his wife.

The first scene begins with Zhuangzi’s young wife, Tian Shi, lamenting her loneliness as a new widow. When the manservant arrives before her, very drunk, she asks him about his master and finds out that he is indeed young and unmarried. When she asks what kind of woman his master would like to marry, the manservant tells her someone like herself. This is all the incentive that Madame Tian needs and she begs the manservant to arrange the match for her.

In the second scene, which happens to take place a day later, the manservant returns to tell Tian Shi that although his master is very interested in such a match, there are problems: How can a marriage take place when Zhuangzi’s coffin is sitting in the house? How can she marry the student after being the wife of the teacher? How can she marry a “nobody” after having married such a great and moral man? How can her relatives not object? How can the wedding be paid for? How can they get married today when the calendar says it is not an auspicious day? Tian Shi has a solution for all of these stumbling blocks and she manservant off to prepare the bridegroom.

These two scenes are taken from a much longer and complex Ming drama which fictionalizes the life of Zhuangzi (fi. 350-300 B.C.E) who together with Laozi was the most influential Taoist philosopher. Zhuangzi is famous for once dreaming that he was a butterfly and, on awaking, wondering if he now was a butterfly dreaming he is Zhuangzi.

The Embroidered Silk Robe: The Lotus Song
The scene opens with Zheng Yuanho, a young man from a wealthy and prominent family, who has been reduced to abject poverty. His current miserable state is the consequence of a dissolute life style, as he has squandered all his money and belongings on Li Yaxian, a stunning beauty courtesan in a pleasure-house. Now penniless and turned out by the madam of the pleasure-house and his own family, Zheng Yuan-ho has succumbed to being a common, homeless beggar. In a violent winter snow storm, he stumbles along in the neighborhood of the pleasure-house, begging while singing the Lotus Song, a tune sung by beggars pleading for pity and compassion.

In the meantime, Li Yaxian, who has genuinely fallen for Zheng Yuanho, has kept to her room and defied her madam by refusing to entertain any of her patrons. Recently she has heard that her lover has become a beggar. Quite upset over his misfortunes and alarmed by the severe weather, Yaxian asks her mate Yinzheng to bring in any beggar who might know the whereabouts of her darling. When Zheng Yuanhe, ends up singing outside their brothel, Yinzheng finds him and brings him in. When Yaxian recognizes that it is Zheng, she wraps him in her embroidered silk robe and the two lovers reunite in relief and tearful joy.

Later in the play, Zheng Yuanho transforms himself into an upright and studious scholar, passes the imperial examination with the highest honor, and marries Yaxian.

The Massacre of Thousands of Loyalists: The Sorrowful Witness
The scene takes place after Emperor Jianwen of the Ming Dynasty has been overthrown and his thrown usurped by his uncle. To escape from the capital, Jianwen and a loyal official Cheng Ji have disguised themselves as monks. The scene highlights their emotions as they travel toward a distant province. Along the way, they see his loyalists being taken off to be executed and their families being reduced to slavery. At the end of the scene, Jianwen takes the sound of a temple bell for one in the imperial palace, but is brought back to reality by Cheng Ji. Jianwen’s arias from this scene are very famous. Because eight of them end with the character yang this scene is also known as “Ba yang” (The Eight Yangs).

Officially, Emperor Jianwen of the Ming Dynasty is supposed to have died in the war his uncle, Emperor Yongle, waged to usurp him, but many stories portray him as living on in disguise. This play recounts the usurpation by Yongle and his relentless persecution of those who remained loyal to Jianwen. Eventually, a new emperor takes the throne and punishes the official held responsible for inciting Yongle to treat the loyalists so cruelly and Jianwen is able to live out the rest of his life in peace.

Meet the Artists

Ji Zhenhua is a famous Kunqu artist and a National Class One Performer specializing in laosheng (old male) roles. He was trained under Zheng Chuanjian and Ni Chuanyue, two artists of the reknowned “Chuan” generation of Kunqu performers. He was the winner of the Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre, the Performing Award, the Showcase Award and the Commemorative Award at the Shanghai Theatre Festival and the Star Award at the Magnolia Award for Chinese Theatre in Shanghai. His repertoire includes excerpts from the traditional repertory such as Searching the Mountains and Stopping the Cart, Recovering from Blindness, and Sweeping under the Pine, as well as new productions such as The Illusory Dream, Cai Wenji, and Emperor Taizong of the Tang.

Liang Guyin is a famous Kunqu artist and a National Class One Performer. She was trained in the style of Zhang Chuanfang and Shen Chuanzhi, members of the “Chuan” generation of Kunqu performers. With her sweet rich voice, Ms. Liang has a repertoire that includes a broad spectrum of roles and vivid personae in the dan (female) category -- such as the zhengdan (principal female), huadan (flirtatious female) and poladan (the shrew). She is known for her sensitive interpretations of her roles and the appealing charm of the shrew characters that she plays. She was a recipient of the Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre, the Magnolia Award for Chinese Theatre in Shanghai, the Outstanding Achievements Award at the Shanghai Cultural and Arts Festival, and a Performance Award at the Shanghai Theatre Festival. She is acclaimed for her interpretations in The Lute, Yearning for the Secular World, and The Wedding Day.

Liu Yilong is a famous Kunqu artist and a National Class One Performer. He specializes in chou (clown) role types, and studied with three “Chuan” generation performers: Hua Chuanhao, Wang Chuansong and Zhou Chuancang. He is a versatile actor, playing both civil and military roles, who injects an infectious sense of humor and fun into his performances. He was the winner of the Supporting Performer Award at the Magnolia Art Award for Chinese Theatre in Shanghai, an Honorable Performance Award at the China Kunqu Opera Arts Festival and the Outstanding Performance Award and the Laurel Award at the Shanghai Theatre Festival. He is known for his excellent vocal skills and delivery, and his insightful acting has created many memorable characters, some of the most well-known including Lou the Rat in Fifteen Strings of Cash, Ximen Qing in Pan Jinlian and the old servant in The Butterfly Dream.

Shan Jing studied at the Jingchen Chinese Opera School, specializing in the Chou (clown) role type. He also studied at the China Traditional Opera Academy in Beijing, graduating with Honors in 1997, and staying on to teach at the Academy. He has participated extensively in various other art forms, including performances with Japanese artists, particularly a tribute performance for the prince of Japan in 1997. He performed the role tutor Chen in the Lincoln Center production of The Peony Pavilion.

Wang Taiqi, a graduate of the Shanghai Academy of Performing Arts, was one of the leading performers of young male roles for the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe before he moved to the U.S. Mr. Wang is also well recognized for his versatility in playing other role-types of the Kunqu dramatic tradition. Since coming to the U.S., he has appeared in many major performances in New York, Washington, D.C., and on the West Coast. Mr. Wang currently lives in New York and is a resident artist of the Kunqu Society there.

Wen Yuhang studied at the Beijing Traditional Opera School for six years with some of the most famous actors and teachers at the school, specializing in the xiaosheng (young scholar) role type. He was a principal actor with the Northern Kunju Company. He has performed throughout China, Taiwan and other countries and has received awards in the “best performer” category in Chinese Drama competitions. In 1999, he was the leading actor, portraying Liu Mengmei, in the Lincoln Center production of The Peony Pavilion, He currently lives in New York.    

Yang Ling is a graduate of the Tianjin Institute of Arts, Beijing Cinema Academy, and Central Broadcast Institute, where she studied Beijing opera, dance, movie and TV acting and broadcasting. She was a member of the Tianjin Beijing Opera Company for many years. A winner of many awards in Beijing opera and dance contests, Miss Yang is now a professional Chinese dancer and participates in the Kunqu Society’s productions.

David Rolston is Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. His particular interests include traditional Chinese drama and fiction. He has numerous publications in English and Chinese. He is presently working on a book on the role system of Peking opera that examines the range and distribution of character types and analyzes them in terms of both the traditional role-type system and compares them to ways of categorizing people in both the social sciences and other theatrical traditions.

Zhou Ming is a master of the Chinese bamboo flute known as the dizi. A graduate of the Shanghai Academy of Traditional Chinese Theater, he received a BA degree in dizi performance from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1989. Mr. Zhou has performed as the lead musician in over twenty-five major Kunqu plays for the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe and has been a guest conductor of ensembles in Japan and Taiwan. He held the title of Class One Musician in the official ranking system in China. He was the music director and lead musician for the Lincoln Center production of The Peony Pavilion, which toured festivals in Paris (home of the co-sponsor of the production, Festival L’Automne), Milan, Aarhus, Perth, Berlin, Vienna, and Singapore.

Huang Shirong is a graduate of the Shanghai Chinese Drama School. Mr. Huang served as the conductor of the Shanghai Beijing Opera Troupe for over thirty years. Several of the productions he conducted as master drummer won national awards in China. He has performed in the U.S.S.R., Japan, and Hong Kong. Mr. Huang was a member of the orchestra for the Lincoln Center production of The Peony Pavilion.

Wang Linsong is a master of several popular string instruments. He was a resident musician and taught San-hsian in Shanghai Yueju Company.  Mr. Wang  is a member of Ensemble of the Peony Pavilion, which performed at the 1999 Lincoln Center Festival and later in Australia, France, and Italy.

Quo Jingqiang is a graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music where he studied erhu with Wei Zhong-Le, Lu Xiu-Tong and Chen Jun-Ying and has been a member of the Shanghai Orchestra, the Shanghai Philharmonic and the Shanghai Traditional Chinese Music Orchestra. His tours in Japan and Singapore have won him wide acclaim. He is erhu soloist and Conductor for the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York.