The Freer and Sackler Galleries in conjunction with  Wintergreen Kunqu Society
presents
 
Portraits In Motion: Chinese Kunqu Theater
"The Banquet"
from The Palace of Eternal Youth
崑曲【長生殿: 小宴】

August 5, 2006, 3:00 pm
Meyer Auditorium, Freer Gallery of Art
1050 Independent Ave., SW, Washington, DC
 

Cast Musicians Synopsis

Meet the Artists

Production Staff  

Cast


Pre-Performance Lecture:
David Rolston

Concubine Yang:

Qian Yi 錢 熠

Emperor Tang:

Wang Taiqi    王泰祺

Musicians

Kunqu Flute (Dizi):

Chen Tao 陳 濤
Drum and Clappers: Wang Zhensheng   王振聲
San Xian/Large Gong:: Wang Linsong    王林松

Production Staff

Producer: Tong-Ching Chang   張冬青
Co-producer: Charles Wilson
Make-up and Costumes: Dong Yanfang   董艷芳
Surtitles: Tong-Ching Chang  張冬青
Video Camera: Charles Wilson

* Thanks to Professor Chang Jingcheng, Ms. Chen Santzu, and Mr. Wu Dongshen of
Pong Yi Qu Ji (蓬瀛曲集) , Taiwan, for helping the preparation and interpretation of Chinese librettos.

 

Synopsis

The Palace of Eternal Youth (Chang sheng 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" (Xiaoyan, 小宴) is an excerpt that constitutes all but the ending 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 stroll through the garden, entranced in each other's gaze.

The emperor orders simple dishes for them to enjoy and then dismisses the imperial entertainers. 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 (1605-1704) 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

Qian Yi studied with the Kunju masters of the Shanghai Academy of Performing Arts for eight years. She plays the lead female role, Du Liniang, in Lincoln Center’s nineteen hours play The Peony Pavilion directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, in New York, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Perth, and Singapore. In 2001, she made her English language debut in Chen Shi-Zheng's workshop of Ji Junxiang's The Orphan of Zhao, produced by Lincoln Center Theatre. While still in China, she appeared in theaters throughout the nation, and received wide acclaim for her performances in scenes from The Legend of the White Snake and The Peony Pavilion (Mudan Ting). Celebrated for her compelling stage presence and beautiful voice, she was awarded the title of National Best Young Kunqu Actress by the Chinese Minister of Culture. She currently lives in New York.

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. 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.

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 which examines the range and distribution of character types and analyzes them in terms of both the traditional role-type system and other frames of reference.

Chen Tao is the founder and director of the Melody of Dragon, and the artistic director and conductor of the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York. He is a specialist on the flute, xiao and xun, and is also a virtuoso performer on other wind instruments such as the bawu, koudi, chiba and other folk wind instruments. 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."

Wang Zhensheng, a graduate of the Jiangsu Drama School, served as a master drummer at the Jiangsu Kunqu Institute. He is also a distinguished performer of the two-string fiddle (erhu) and the flute. In 1998 and 1999, he joined the World Tour of Peter Sellars’ production The Peony Pavilion.

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