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How Is Kunqu Formed

In the history of Chinese Drama, one of the major milestones was the development of Kunqu opera. Kunqu combines a unique blend of literary masterpiece with dramatic stage theatrics. The arias sung by the performers while accommodating with intricate gestures and body movements, transmits a powerful emotional experience to the audience. It in that rapport that makes Kunqu one of the most prestigious form of Chinese drama and deeply influence all the other forms of Chinese drama.

Kunqu is more than just drama: it is a combination of play, opera, ballet, poetry recital, and musical recital. It also draws on earlier form of Chinese theatrical performances: mime, farce, acrobatics, ballad recital, and medley, some of which go back to the third century B.C. or even earlier. It is first and foremost a performing art. In the performance of Kunqu three media work simultaneously and in harmony, words, music, and dance.

The name Kunqu refers to the musical element of the art form. It is derived from the fact that one of the principal regional music that went into the formation of Kunqu came from the district of Kunshan (near Suzhou, in the modern day providence of Jiangsu). Even though the music can be traced into the fourteenth century, Kunqu was not codified and standardized until the sixteenth century by Wei Liangfu and his various collaborators. The early composers combine the Kunshan music with three other southern musical forms and the northern tunes from dram of Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). The result was a set of rules governing the rhyme, tone, pronunciation and notation of the opera. Because of this standard, the regional music was able to be spread throughout China by the end of sixteenth century. The rules that were created then, relatively unchanged, are brought to the audience every time a modern day performance is staged.

Instrumental music is an essential part of Kunqu. Due to the fact that Chinese is a tonal language, the arias already contain the melody and form of the music. The instrumental accompaniment is chosen from a repertoire of tunes and fitted to the arias. The accompaniment is superimposed upon the words without interfering with it to form each song.

A normal Kunqu program would include various scenes from different play, instead of one single play. There are many reasons for this programming tradition. One reason is Chinese theatergoers comes to a Kunqu program to see the performance, not the play. The plot is usually familiar to the audience or made available through prose summary. This way, the theatergoers can concentrate on the beautiful movement of the performers. Another reason is that the complete play in most cases is very long in length. In fact, some of the classical plays can take several days to be staged in completion. This tradition makes that Kunqu can be performed either in theaters or in private places. Besides, all the scenes frequently performed on stage are the most prestigious part of Kunqu. All of these had kept Kunqu popular in China for several centuries and survived until the present.
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