Two bells in love
Two bells in love
Two opera performers posing on the runway during the Guo Pei Kunqu Opera Fashion Show on April 26. Photo: CFP
By Xing Daiqi
Breaking the stereotypes of antiquated opera performances, Two Belles in Love (Lian Xiang Ban), a Kunqu Opera production broaching the topic of same-sex romance, will take to the stage Tuesday at Poly Theater to mark the 400th birthday of its playwright and Qing Dynasty literati Li Yu (1610-1680).
The ancient love story tells the plight of two women, Cui Jianyun and Cao Yuhua, who fall in love due to the admiration for each other's stunning beauty and literary craft. The work explores their quest to marry the same man in an attempt to stay together.
"Two Belles in Love created by Li Yu 350 years ago is the first opera work that is dedicated to the topic of female homosexuality known to us today. By exploring such a unique subject, we want to elevate people's knowledge of Kunqu Opera," producer Wang Xiang told the Global Times.
Wang said that with Wang Shiyu as artistic director, renowned Hong Kong art house film director Stanley Kwan at the helm and acclaimed fashion designer Guo Pei behind the production, Two Belles in Love is a fitting celebration of Li Yu.
According to historical records, Li Yu took a concubine, Cao, when he was in his 30s, only to find that his first wife was more in love with Cao than with him. "The polygamy of Chinesefeudal society offered a secret garden for female homosexuality," Taiwan scholar Xu Jianqiao explained.
Considered as a brilliant and inventive comedy writer, playwright and director, Li Yu traveled extensively with his Kunqu Opera troupe during his lifetime.
Known as an epicure and designer of houses and gardens, Li's works take the audience into 17th-century China by offering jokes, fantasies, yearnings and thoughts of the period.
"For a long time, the idea of homosexuality in Chinese society was ambiguous: Chinese culture, including Confucians, didn't consider same-sex love a sin as many Christian churches do," explained Gao Yanning, a professor with the School of Public Health at Fudan University.
"As long as a man or woman performs their duty and sires children, then their private affairs are just that, private. This is why some sexologists, like Li Yinhe, call China 'a half paradise for homosexuality'," he added.
As one of the few openly gay directors in Asia who has worked extensively on these themes, Kwan said he is hoping to bring a new dimension to the old opera.
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