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Kunqu Opera


Kunqu is China's oldest and one of its most influential theatrical traditions. It is performed in many areas of the country. A Kunqu play usually consists of more than 24 scenes - accompanied by arias - with a complex plot and subplots involving human or supernatural elements. The performance usually features 12 actors who employ gestures, pantomime, mock combat and acrobatics, as well as stylized dancing and singing. A small ensemble of wind and string instruments, and percussion instruments accompany the singing and stage action.

Legacies of the Kunqu theatre are librettos from the Ming and Qing periods (1644-1911). When the People's Republic of China was established in 1949, the government set up training academies for traditional theatres, as well as research institutes on traditional music and theatre. The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) suppressed these measures, and in the early 1980s, the Ministry of Culture called on all surviving Kunqu actors, as well as actors from other traditional theatres, to resume their acting careers. New actors were also recruited and trained.

Threats: The lack of a consistent programme for Kunqu performances, which, since 1990, have only been staged sporadically.

Action plan: The Opera Research Institute envisages the collection and publication of scripts, photographs, and audio and video recordings of Kunqu performances. The government plans to support th e six existing Kunqu opera houses and the training of new performers, the revival of rarely performed operas, and the organization of festivals.