Exploring Chinese Orchestral Repertoire Series #50

Kuan-Chih CHENG: Chinese Operas (Third Movement: Acting)

Dizi: Mei-Yu SHIH / Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, Tien-Ku Percussion Group / Chih-Sheng CHEN / National Concert Hall / Taipei, Taiwan / Video: Jacob Audio and Video Arts, Jacob Chang / Audio: Chao-Hui Wang. 2019.8.28 (commissioned work, world premiere)

“Chinese Operas” can be considered an amalgamation of contemporary literature, music and dance, that reflects the cultural dynamics of the times. The Chinese flute “Di” has always been an important accompaniment instrument. The Di for accompanying Kunqu opera has a soft and mellow tone and is called “Qudi” or “Kundi.” Accompanying high-pitched northern opera with bright tones is the “Bangdi” or “Gaodi.” With its prominent use in opera, the composer elevated the Di for solo roles as well. Using three types of operas (Nuo, Kun and Beijing) and three types of Di (Dadi, Qudi, Bandgi), the composer hopes to convey everyday scenes of operatic experiences (watching, listening, and acting). For drama exists not only on stage, but in reality: “life is a drama and drama is life.”

This work is divided into three movements:

1) Watching Opera: most people start by watching as the initial experience with opera. The deep and intense tone of the Dadi is used to convey the mysterious and treacherous atmosphere in Nuo opera. Also contemporary by design, the composer describes the various roles one plays in life – watching passively at times, but also revealing different reactions under different circumstances. Life is a play.

2) Listening to Opera: the Qudi used in Kunqu opera has a soft and mellow tone. Listening to Kunqu opera, without watching, was a popular form of entertainment for the general public during the Ming Dynasty. Melodic fragments from the Kunqu operas “Zaoluo Pao” and “Good Sister” are employed here. One can feel the story through listening alone. The beautiful melodic lines describes the fleeting beauty of life, leaving lasting impressions in our heartstrings.

3) Acting: actors played and sang different roles just as in real life. Everyone plays different roles on various occasions. The Beijing opera song “The Deep Night” is adapted here for the Bangdi’s high-pitched and robust qualities to express joy and hope in life.

This work was commissioned by the Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra and supported by the Taipei Cultural Bureau. (Translation: Shiyan Zhang / Edit: Patty Chan)