Lin Chia-yi. “On the Song Cycles of Martial Arts Plays and the Succession of Kunqu Performance.” Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore 184 (2014.6): 229-78.
The Kunqu and Peking Opera are two separate opera genres, with different musical tunes and singing styles. However, parts of their repertoires do overlap. There are some Kunqu plays that are kept in the Peking Opera repertoires, mainly martial arts plays. The subject of this study highlights “song cycles” instead of Kunqu, because martial arts plays of Peking Opera feature both original Kunqu plays and new plays composed by
troupes. The term “song cycles” stresses the musical characteristics of the
martial arts plays and explains why Kunqu
performers, schooled by Peking Opera masters, were able to stage these plays
and push ahead the eventual independence of martial arts roles sheng and dan.
Although martial arts plays are not the most representative type of either Peking Opera or Kunqu, their history of performance and variety illustrate their vitality. I focus on the song cycles of martial arts plays to show their employment in Peking Opera and Kunqu, to shed lights on the development of cross-genre opera dissemination, and the significance of Kunqu martial arts plays. The discussions are in two parts. In the first part, I discuss the employment of song cycles, the origin, formula and structural layout of martial arts plays in Peking Opera. In the second part, I explain the succession of martial arts plays in Kunqu, their development and transformation from Peking Opera to Kunqu, to demonstrate that martial arts plays in contemporary Kunqu neither confine themselves to the Kunqu tradition nor follow precisely the Peking Opera model, but exhibits a specific sophistication and innovation.