Kun Opera, also called "Kunshanqiang" or "Kunqu", originated in the Kunshan region of Jiangsu. It is one of China's classical operas, with a history of more than 500 years.
During the reign of Emperor Jiajing, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Wei Liangfu, a famous musician, combined the essences of Haiyan and Yiyang styles and created the well-known "Shuimoqing", contributing to the development of Kun Opera.
Kun Opera has a complete system of acting as well as its own distinctive tunes. Its wide-ranging repertoire has many delicate and elegant tunes. The orchestra consists of traditional instruments including the dizi, a horizontal bamboo flute which plays the lead part; xiao, a vertical bamboo flute; sheng, a mouth organ and pipa, a plucked string instrument with a fretted finger board. Many Chinese local operas are greatly influenced by its tunes and acting style.
There are two schools of Kun Opera: the Southern Kun, which is prevalent in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, and the Northern Kun, prevailing throughout North China. Yu Zhenfei is the best known actor of Kun Opera.
To know more about Kun Opera, you can look through the following synopses of famous plays of Kun Opera:
Escorting Jingniang Home (Qianli Song Jingniang): Zhao Kuangyin (927-976 AD) is a brave warrior who becomes the Song emperor. Once he rescues a girl named Jingniang who has been kidnapped by a group of bandits. He makes the girl his sworn sister while escorting her home to avoid the rumour that he may have had an affair with the girl. The girl's father wants to marry off his daughter to Zhao, who declines the marriage, insisting that they are sworn brother and sister. The girl commits suicide, and her soul escorts Zhao to his destination.
Fifteen Strings of Coins (Shiwu Guan): The opera is set in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Lou Ashu, a rascal from Wuxi County, kills the butcher You Hulu and takes his 15 strings of coins. Without investigation, the county magistrate Guo Yuzhi concludes that Xiong Youlan and Su Shujuan are the murderers. Before they are executed, the Suzhou governor, Kuang Zhong, decides that Xiong and Su may be innocent. Kuang goes to Wuxi to investigate and arrests the real murderer. Xiong and Su are released.
Love at First Sight (Qiang Tou Ma Shang): During the Tang Dynasty, Pei Shaojun, a minister's son, and Li Qianjun, a minister's daughter, fall in love at first sight. Li's father wants her to marry the prime minister's son, so Pei and Li elope. Later, when Pei passes the imperial examination and wins the title "Number One Scholar," their parents accept their marriage.
South Tang Dynasty Tragedy(): Zhou Yuying, his wife's younger sister. The two men meet while hunting and reconcile, but not for long. When the empress dies, Li makes Zhou his new wife. Zhao also wants to marry her. Their conflict ends tragically. Zhao poisons Li, but then Zhou poisons herself and dies for the emperor.
Yan Xijiao: Zhang Wenyuan has no luck woooing Yang Xijiao, a woman beautiful but poor. Because Yan's mother needs money, she gives her daughter instead to Song Jiang as a concubine. But on their night together, Song's wife falls ill, and Song must leave. Zhang seizes the opportunity to enter Yan's room and they become lovers. One day, Yan discovers that Song works with outlaws. Burning with anger, Song kills Yan and the witness to his crime. In the afterlife, Yan pines for her lover, Zhang Wenyuan and her ghost captures him.