The Phoenix Sings: Kunqu Performance
Friday August 16, 2013  1:00 pm                    
Saturday August 17, 2011  1:00 and 2:00 pm

Sackler Landing Level, Freer and Sackler Galleries
1050 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC (Metro Station: Smithsonian (Mall Exit)

The Palace of Eternal Youth: "The Banquet"

Cast Musicians Synopsis

Meet the Artists

Production Staff  


Emperor Zuanzong:

Wu Dezhang  

Consort Yang:

Shen Yili


Kunqu Flute (Dizi):

Chen Tao
Drum and Clappers: Huang Shirong  黃士榮
Er Hu: Guo Jingqiang  郭景強

WKS Production Staff

Producer: Tong-Ching Chang  張冬青
Co-producer: Charles Wilson
Make-up and Dresser:: Yang Guiyin    楊桂英
Surtitles: Tong-Ching Chang   張冬青
Photography: Cindy Rodney
Video Camera: Charles Wilson


The Palace of Eternal Youth (Changsheng dian長生殿) is a full-length (50 scene) play that treats the famous and tragic love story between Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) of the Tang dynasty and his favorite imperial consort Yang Yuhuan, also known by her court title, Precious Consort Yang (Yang Guifei). "The Banquet" is an excerpt that constitutes all but the very beginning and the end of Scene 24 "Startled by the Rebellion" (Jingbian 驚變). Indulging himself in his lovemaking with Consort Yang, the emperor has become lax in attending to affairs of state, and unknown to him, trouble is growing on the border, among his own troops. The time is autumn, and the imperial garden is decked out in the brilliant colors of the changing leaves. The emperor orders a small feast in the garden. The couple arrives, holding each other's hands, and strolls through the garden, entranced in each other's gaze. The emperor has ordered simple dishes for them to enjoy. He asks Consort Yang to sing a new song recently composed using the lyrics of the famous and talented poet Li Bai. As they celebrate the occasion and each other, Consort Yang becomes intoxicated, which makes her appear even more lovely. She is finally led away, and our excerpt comes to an end. In the last part of the scene, which is not being performed today, the peace and tranquility of the love between emperor and consort is shattered by the report to the emperor that one of the emperor's generals, An Lushan, has rebelled against the throne and has already broken through the pass guarding the approach to the capital. The feckless emperor can do nothing but accept his minister's advice to abandon the capital and flee to Sichuan.

The rebellion of An Lushan brought to an end the era known as the "High Tang," an age of extended peace and prosperity overseen by Emperor Xuanzong, in which the arts, and particularly poetry, flourished as never before. Falling from the height of power, Xuangzong becomes a fugitive unable to protect even the life of the woman he loves, Consort Yang (on the road to exile, the troops escorting the imperial party refuse to go further until she is put to death). All this is brought about by the rebellion of An Lushan, a non-Chinese Sogdian who was once the favorite of the emperor and who became the adopted son of Consort Yang. The rebellion raged for years, and besides Consort Yang's death, it also brought with it the sacking of the capital and the abdication of Emperor Xuanzong in favor of his son. The Tang dynasty was never the same again. One of the reasons for An Lushan's rebellion was his constant disputes and jockeying for power with Xuanzong's Prime Minister, Yang Guozhong, who owed his rise to power to his cousin, Consort Yang. Yang Guozhong was also put to death by the troops escorting Xuanzong into exile.

The play from which our excerpt comes, The Palace of Eternal Youth, was written by Hong Sheng (1645-1704) at the close of the seventeenth century. It is generally regarded by scholars of Kunqu as the greatest and best composed play written specifically for performance in the Kunqu style. Hong Sheng worked in consort with a music master to make sure that his lyrics fit the music of the arias perfectly. The play carries the love story of the emperor and his consort on beyond her death. In the middle of the play they pledge to be lovers once again in their next existence, and at the end of the play a shaman manages to put the two of them back in touch even before Xuanzong himself dies. The play’s considerable appeal lies in its poetry and the sense of spectacle created through that poetry.
Hong Sheng did not invent the story that he so ably turned into such a classic play. But his is the fullest and most artistic of the myriad versions of the story. Although critical of the failings of the two lovers, his play also exhibits great sympathy for them, and is one of the strongest affirmations of love in the Chinese tradition.

Meet the Artists

Shen Yili is a graduate of the Shanghai Academy of Performing Arts and joined the Shanghai Kunju Company after graduation. Specializing in the "refined young maiden" role type (閨門旦), Ms. Shen’s repertoire includes traditional kunqu plays, such as “The Peony Pavilion (牡丹亭), ” “Jade Hairpin(玉簪記),” “The Palace of Eternal Youth(長生殿),” “A Beauty above the Wall(牆頭馬上),” “The Purple Hairpin(紫釵記)” etc. and famous kunqu episodes, such as “Dream of Butterfly: Match Making (說親),” “The Peony Pavilion: Interrupted Dream(驚夢)and Pursuing the Dream (尋夢), “The Phoenix Mountain: Princess Florets (百花贈劍), etc. Since 2002, she has received numerous nationally recognized awards in China.

Wu Dezhang is a graduate of the Shanghai Academy of Performing Arts. Mr. Wu is an exceptionally versatile performer, excelling the the young sholar, the clown, and the warrior role types. For many years, he was a member of the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe and toured with it to many countries. Mr. Wu is currently a Resident Artist of the Kunqu Society and teaches in its Kunqu Workshop.

Chen Tao is the founder and director of the Melody of Dragon, as well as the artistic director and conductor of the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York. He is not only a specialist on the Chinese horizontal bamboo flute (dizi), vertical flute (xiao) and ocarina (xun), he is also a virtuoso performer on other wind instruments such as the bawu, koudi, and chiba. In 1989 he won the first place in the National Folk Instrument competition in China. During a trip to England he collaborated with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and The Orchestra National de Lyon. The New York Times called him a "poet in music" and his playing "a miracle of the oriental flute." While on tour in Germany the maestro Herbert von Karajan praised him as an artist who "performed with his soul."

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.

Guo Jingqiang is a graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music where he studied erhu with Wei Zhongle, Lu Xiutong, and Chen Junying. He has been a member of the Shanghai Orchestra, the Shanghai Philharmonic, and the Shanghai Traditional Chinese Music Orchestra. His tours of Japan and Singapore have won him wide acclaim. Mr. Guo is an erhu soloist and conductor for the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York.