University of Pittsburgh

“Kunqu, the Classical Opera of Globalized China”

132 Music Building Joseph Lam, Chair of the Department of Musicology, University of Michigan Co-sponsored by Asian Studies Center and the Department of Music For more information contact Dr. Katherine Carlitz, Asian Studies Center, kcarlitz@pitt.edu Abstract Kunqu, a 600 years-old genre of Chinese opera, faced threats of extinction more than once in its long history. It has, however, not only survived, but continued to grow. In fact, kunqu now appeals to an ever-expanding community of Chinese and non-Chinese audiences. What gives the genre such a vitality? What does its 21st century and globalized practices signify? Kunqu, this presentation posits, is a valorized performance tradition of China, one that its audiences enjoy, and manipulate to negotiate diverse notions of Chinese identities and desires. In other words, kunqu makes not only artistic representations of China and Chinese people, but also provides expressive objects, sites, and processes for its diverse audiences to negotiate their Chinese agendas. Illustrative of such negotiations are arguments on the use of western harmonies and counterpoints in contemporary kunqu performances. If some audiences find the hybridized sounds expressions of Chinese modernity and globalization, other would lament the corruption, if not loss, of an "authentic" Chinese legacy/cultural capital. What the audiences argue obviously transcend issues of musical details; the debates are, needless to say, thinly masked negotiations of what China was, is, and should be. Music has become a focus in the debates, because music sonically renders kunqu distinctive to its Chinese and global audiences. To discuss the above thesis, this presentation will review the valorization and manipulation of kunqu as a classical opera in globalized China. Contrasting versions of representative kunqu arias will be analyzed to demonstrate musical differences and their negotiated meanings.

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