A Night at the Opera

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Backstage, Juguan Xu adjusts her headdress before a scene from an opera originally written in the 16th century as part of a performance at Flushing Town Hall.
Jing Shan plays a court official in an opera about a doomed king romancing his favorite concubine just before he is to be overthrown.
Yourong Xin uses only a fan to set the stage for an opera about a young poet’s secret romance. In Kunqu, even the embroidery on the robes — in this case, bamboo, which symbolizes a garden — tells the audience what’s happening.
As in Western opera, the stories are usually tragic — like this one about a father condemned to death by a warring king taking his only son on a journey to be adopted by another family.
Kunqu is the oldest form of Chinese opera, a highly stylized form of music, dance and poetry. The Kunqu Society — made up mostly of well-trained amateurs — is keeping the traditional alive.
Scenery and elaborate props are almost never used in Chinese opera. Elaborate costumes and movement tell the story instead.

Like western opera, Kunqu — the oldest type of Chinese opera that dates back to the 16th Century — never saw a tragic story it didn’t like.

That may be the reason why it has survived so long. Filled with death, thwarted romance and secret love, it has all the elements of Puccini or Verdi.

The Kunqu Society of New York, a group of mostly amateur performers who have kept the highly stylized theatrical form alive in America, performed at Flushing Town Hall last weekend to an audience of avid fans and first-timers.

Here is it what it looked like, on stage and behind the scenes.

Posted 12:00 am, November 24, 2017
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