Kunqu Opera, also known as Kunju, Kun opera or Kunqu, is one of the oldest extant forms of Chinese opera. It evolved from the local melody of Kunshan, and subsequently came to dominate Chinese theater from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The style originated in the Wu cultural area. It has been listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2001. 

It is characterized by its dynamic structure and melody (kunqiang) and classic pieces such as the Peony Pavilion and the Hall of Longevity. It combines song and recital as well as a complex system of choreographic techniques, acrobatics and symbolic gestures. The opera features a young male lead, a female lead, an old man and various comic roles, all dressed in traditional costumes. Kun Qu songs are accompanied by a bamboo flute, a small drum, wooden clappers, gongs and cymbals, all used to punctuate actions and emotions on stage. Renowned for the virtuosity of its rhythmic patterns (changqiang), Kunqu opera has had a considerable influence or more recent forms of Chinese opera, such as the Sichuan or Beijing opera.

In this episode of “Inheritors”, we focused on Wang Fang, the national inheritor of Kunqu Opera; Zhang Jun, the “prince” of the new Kunqu Opera, and Zhang Ran, the post-90s Kunqu Opera actor. They shared the artistic charm of the traditional Kunqu Opera, the stage performance of the new Kunqu Opera, and how Kunqu opera will be presented in the future.

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