Ancient and modern
Northern Kunqu Opera

Northern Kunqu Opera was a branch of Kunshanqiang, an old Chinese opera. In 1917, Rongqing Troupe from Gaoyang in Hebei, which specialized in Kunge Opera, came and performed in Beijing, where it created Northern Kunqiang, or Northern Kunqu Opera as it has been called since 1949. In 1957, Northern Kunqu Opera Theater was founded in Beijing. The first director was Han Shichang. Famous actors were Bai Yunsheng, Hou Yongkui, Hou Yushan, Ma Xianglin, Bai Yuzhen, and Li Shujun, etc.

Artistic characteristics of Northern Kunqu Opera

Beijing dialect is used for singing and spoken lines, but the articulation and rhyming still strictly conform to traditional Kunqu Opera. In addition, the influence from Gaoqiang, which most of its actors also performed, helped to create a singing style marked by high pitch, richness, boldness and vigor, in sharp contrast with the soft, gentle style of Southern Kunqu. Northern Kunqu also differs from Southern Kunqu in embellishments such as mordent, glide and trill ways of breath and skills of accompaniment. In terms of subject matters, unlike Southern Kunqu, which is fit for depicting young men and women, Northern Kunqu tends to feature historical stories and martial plays, such as Night Patrol, Night Escape, Making Havoc in Kunyang, Copper Banner, Exiting Tongguan Pass, and An Tian Hui. Such martial plays, with distinct Northern characteristics, feature many exciting martial art scenes.

Northern Kunqu: Subai

Kunqu gradually split into Southern Kunqu and Northern Kunqu in modern times. While Southern Kunqu was known for its grace and softness, Northern Kunqu excelled in briskness and vigor. The quintessential Southern Kunqu was performed by actors from Suzhou. Most actors of Northern Kunqu came from Gaoyang in Hebei, such as Han Shichang, Bai Yunsheng and Hou Yongkui. Some roles in Northern Kunqu also spoke their lines in Suzhou dialect, thus its name Subai.

Kun-luan Budang

Kun refers to Kunqu, and Luan refers to Luantan, i.e. such operas as Bangzi and Yiyang. The former was highbrow music while the latter was popular. Kun-luan Budang means an actor who is equally skilled at both types of Kunqu. In the past most Peking Opera actors also practiced Kunqu. Mei Lanfang, for instance, was also a good performer of Kunqu and Bangzi.