Kunqu Opera in Vancouver

Liang Guyin, Chinese opera performer

Recently, Josh Stenberg (yes, the Josh Stenberg) asked me to take a look at the Vancouver Society for the Chinese Performing Arts' latest offering, a performance of Kunqu opera featuring Liang Guyin, Ji Zhenhua and Liu Yilong. Josh tells me the society is "having trouble getting a gwailo audience because they think it's all cat-meow-shrieking, which it's not". Myself, the China somewhat-expert that I am, I happen to think Peking Opera really is cat-meow-shrieking, but I watched and otherwise loved Farewell My Concubine so I'm willing to give a different form of Chinese opera a chance. Upcoming performances of the opera in Vancouver are June 16th and 17th at UBC's Frederic Wood Theatre and you can get tickets at Ticketmaster.

Susan Goodman got close up and wrote an article and posted photos of a 2007 Kunqu opera performance in Nanjing, directed by the aforementioned Josh Stenberg.


So it wasn't cat-meow-shrieking like I thought it might be, except possibly for portions of Liang Guyin's performance, which would have wooed me if it weren't for the two photographers in the front row snapping SLR photos for during the whole thing. Distracting and annoying! I left at the intermission, not out of annoyance, but rather just to get home by midnight, as the delays in getting people in pushed the start time back 20 minutes or so. UBC Catherine Swatek professor may have misjudged the opportunity to introduce the series of places as an opportunity to deliver a university lecture. I'm not complaining about the content of the lecture, which was informative and compelling, just may not have been the best venue for it. Or at least the between-play lectures could use some tightening up for length. Regardless, she's now on my radar of white, fluent-Mandarin-speaking professors teaching and researching Chinese culture, along with the other one I know about, Jan Walls, who was in the audience last night. I gained a better appreciation for the subtlety and nuance of Chinese operatic theatre, enjoying the subtitles not for the English translation but rather for the Chinese characters and how they were sung. Mandarin is a language of tones, and as Swatek noted, singing each "character" in a range of notes/"tones" throws off those studying the language.