Kunqu: An Introduction With Cheung Lai-chun

Date :
Saturday, 25 February 2017
Time :
Venue :
1/F, Fung Ping Shan Building, UMAG, HKU
Cost :
Free admission. All are welcome.
Enquiries :
Elena Cheung at [email protected] or 2241-5512
Note :
This event will be conducted in Cantonese, with some English subtitle

Kunqu (崑曲) is a form of Chinese musical drama. But it is more than just drama: it is a combination of play, opera, ballet, poetry recital, and musical recital.

The name Kunqu refers, strictly speaking, to the musical element of this art form, and is connected with the fact that one of the principal types of regional music that went into the making of Kunqu came from the district of Kunshan (崑山) (near Suzhou, in modern Jiangsu Province). This type of regional music goes back to the fourteenth century. It was given shape in the sixteenth century by Wei Liangfu and others, who combined it with three other forms of southern music and with northern tunes from the drama of the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). Wei Liangfu (魏良輔) and his collaborators standardized the rules of rhyme, tones, pronunciation, and notation, making it possible for this regional form of music to become a national standard. By the end of the sixteenth century, Kunqu spread from the Suzhou region to the rest of China, and became the most prestigious form of Chinese drama.

Music is an essential element of Kunqu, but it differs from Western opera in that there are no individual composers in the Western sense; the author of the drama chooses from an existing repertory, according to fixed conventions, as the tunes exist not in isolation but in sequences. There is a delicate relation between words and tunes: Chinese is a tonal language, every word has a “melody," as it were, and the musical air is superimposed on the word melody, without interfering with it.

In addition to music and words, there is the third element of dance movements and gestures, all rigidly stylized. The three elements work in harmony to convey the meaning and the aesthetic effect desired. Stage equipment is kept to a minimum. There is no curtain, and few props: sometimes a table and a chair. The stage setting, like the costumes, is not meant to be realistic. The actors appeal to the audience’s imagination and conjure up a scene or a setting (such as a door, a horse, a river, a boat) with words, gestures, and music.

Cheung Lai-chun began learning the qin (古琴) under Madame Tsar Teh yun in 1976, and Kunqu (崑曲) under Ms Le Yiping in 1988. She is currently a part-time instructor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of the Hong Kong Baptist University, teaching the Art of Kunqu. She is also a member of the Commission for the Research and Promotion of Kunju of the Hong Kong Institute for Promotion of Chinese Culture, a researcher at the Centre for Chinese Cultural Heritage of the Hong Kong Baptist University, and chairman of the Concordia Kunqu Society of Hong Kong. In recent years, she has been dedicated to the exploration of traditional Chinese vocal art. She gave vocal interpretations in three recent publications in Hong Kong, one of which is The Vocalisation of the Ci Poems of Jiang Kui(白石詞擬唱), published by the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of Hong Kong Baptist University, and the other is the vocal interpretation of Kunqu in the CD accompanying An Anthology of Notated Northern and Southern Ci Music in Nine Modes: A Critical Edition with Commentary(新定九宮大成南北詞宮譜譯註), a nine-volume series published by the Music Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and also the vocal interpretation of Gem of Ci Poetry Music(宋韻遺珍), published by The Commercial Press.