Information

  • EVENT TYPE /

    Music, Theatre

  • LANGUAGE /

    Performed in Chinese (Mandarin) with English subtitles. Please note an understanding of Mandarin is not required to enjoy this performance.

  • PLAYING /

    3 Mar 2018

  • WHERE /

    Merlyn Theatre

  • DURATION /

    90 minutes

  • WARNINGS /

    Haze

  • AGES /

    Recommended for audiences aged 8+

Hosted Events

Pining Strings,
Lingering Harmony
寻琴记

3 Mar 2018

Information

  • EVENT TYPE /

    Music, Theatre

  • LANGUAGE /

    Performed in Chinese (Mandarin) with English subtitles. Please note an understanding of Mandarin is not required to enjoy this performance.

  • PLAYING /

    3 Mar 2018

  • WHERE /

    Merlyn Theatre

  • DURATION /

    90 minutes

  • WARNINGS /

    Haze

  • AGES /

    Recommended for audiences aged 8+

The Story

Almost 400 years ago, a plane tree of the Hanshan Temple  in Suzhou was struck by lightning. The emperor was aghast at the destruction of the tree because it was planted by his great grandfather in the year he ascended the throne and it had always been regarded as a symbol of the dynasty itself. He commanded the local government to bring the tree back to life within three months, or the monks of the  temple would be put to death. The emperor sent his brother The Prince of Xin to Suzhou to investigate and oversee the matter.

The entire monastery was in despair at this, but an instrument maker named Zhou Kui said he had a solution, that he could indeed bring the tree back to life – in a way. He spent three months using the wood of the dead tree to make a pair of twin guqins (a quqin is a kind of zither, and one of the most ancient of Chinese instruments). When The Prince of Xin found out the tree had been mutilated by Zhou Kui, he was furious and threw him in jail. Zhou Kui’s sixteen year old daughter Jade Phoenix requested an audience with the Prince  to save her father. The Prince fell in love with Jade Phoenix at first sight and agreed to save her father’s life as long as she consented to marry him. She already had a lover named Yin but now they were forced to separate. Before departure, Jade Phoenix gave one of the twin guqins to Yin and when she became Empress after The Prince ascended the throne as the Chongzhen Emperor, last of the Ming Dynast y rulers, she took the other one with her to the Forbidden City in the Imperial Palace in Beijing.

During the last turbulent days of the Ming dynasty, a period of famine, peasant rebellion and  Manchu invasion from the north, Beijing was under attack from rebels and  both the Emperor  and Empress committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner. Before killing herself, Jade Phoenix asked her sister to take the guqin back to Suzhou and give it to her former lover, Yin. Her sister (Rong) escaped from the Forbidden City but she didn’t make it back to Suzhou because a rumour spread that there was a clue to the location of royal treasure hidden somewhere inside the guqin. Both Rong and the guqin disappeared.

Nearly four centuries later in Melbourne in 2011,China’s most reputable guqin repair specialist and performer, Master Pei Jinbao, receives two ancient guqins almost simultaneously. One has been purchased at an auction in Melbourne and the other has been sent from Thailand. Guided by the mysterious hand of destiny, these two instruments have found their way to Master Pei across centuries and cultures. They appear identical in size and shape, but on peering inside Pei finds hidden characters revealing the long-lost secret of the guqin. Pei examines the instruments and engages in  a dialogue between himself in his present life and  his former incarnation, Zhou Kui of the Ming Dynasty.

The Work

Pining Strings, Lingering Harmony, written by Patrick Wang and Linda (Nalan) Zhao, based on Master Pei Jinbao’s real life story, and historical events in China, will come to The Coopers Malthouse during the Chinese Lantern Festival (also, as it happens fortuitously, known as The Festival of Reunion) unveiling for its audiences the secret of these beguiling and beautiful ancient instruments, hidden in the mists of four long centuries. Over ninety minutes, 10  guqin masterpieces will be presented to the audience, including a very  famous piece, White Snow, performed as a guqin-cello duet. Musicians of the period in this play were also story-tellers, singers and dancers and the performers will be dressed accordingly in seventeenth century costume, luring the audience into the fascinating and mysterious world of the Ming.

Dr Trevor Hay, a Melbourne writer and scholar of Chinese literature and theatre, explains the significance of the work and its originality:

This is not a traditional form of regional Chinese opera, such as Beijing opera, nor a contemporary performance of familiar works of modern Chinese opera such as The White-haired Girl, or Red Detachment of Women, which have played to Western audiences for some time. There have been various ‘hybrid’ works employing intercultural aspects of stagecraft, instrumentation and genre but this is a fittingly inventive work for a multicultural city such as Melbourne. It is an original and exciting blend of Chinese storytelling with a universally accessible and ‘operatic’  theme and music that integrates the exquisite, haunting delicacy of an age-old  Chinese instrument with melody that crosses cultural and temporal barriers.

The work features, both as subject and form of expression, the enchanting guqin, China’s oldest stringed instrument, listed by UNESCO as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. This numinous instrument is the soul of the work.

The Artists

Pei Jinbao plays two roles—as himself and as Zhou Kui, a guqin maker living towards the end of the Ming Dynasty. Pei’s daughter, who is also a renowned guqin performer in China, plays the role of Zhou Kui’s daughter Jade Phoenix. Nalan Linda Zhao, Master Pei’s student, a Melbourne-based guqin player, will play the part of Jade Phoenix’s sister. Nalan is a student of Master Pei and a very popular Melbourne based guqin performer, a pioneer in introducing the instrument to Australian theatre. She gave a solo concert in Kelaide Theatre in 2015 and last year performed in a guqin-didgeridoo duet with Melbourne busker Daniel Richardson, who will play his didgeridoo in this show. She and Patrick Wang are the writers of this story. Patrick is a well-known theatre director, manager of events and MC for events such as Nalan’s solo concert in 2015. He has been Master of Ceremonies for many innovative cultural activities, including a Multi-Art fashion Show in Melbourne in 2017. Yelian He, an Australian Chinese classical concert cellist, will also perform. Yelian has recently performed in the UK, including a 2013 private performance for the Queen and her Commonwealth guests. The dancers are Demitri Meyers and Emily Zhang, winners of the Under 21 Open Ballroom at the 2017 Australian National Championship of DanceSport.

The performance will be a truly multicultural and multi-arts event, with a touch of ancient and modern from China and Australia, including violin, operatic arias and didgeridoo. The show also features Australian and Chinese Australian dancers.

The Opening Scene

On a rainy autumn night in Suzhou, China, lightning fires the sky and thunder shakes the earth. Master Pei Jinbao, China’s renowned guqin performer and antique instrument repairer, is suddenly wide awake. He dashes into the living room and shuts the window to drown out the noise, but then he hears a mysterious melody somewhere behind him. It sounds familiar, something from a dream. He turns back and sees a young couple dressed in the fashion of the seventeenth century, sitting face to face, each playing the guqin. Astonished, Pei takes a step forward but the apparition vanishes.

Although the musicians are an apparition, the two instruments, identical in shape, are real. They have found their way to Master Pei via two different owners in two different countries, across four centuries. Peering inside them with a torch, he finds hidden characters that reveal their identity, their ‘birthmarks’ - they are twins,  separated at birth, reunited after the rise and fall of dynasties, the chaos of invasion, revolution and disaster and the transformation of the world in which they were created.

Where have the twins been? How much suffering have they endured and witnessed over the past four centuries of their painful separation, longing for the harmony of reunion and pining for each other as much as their original owners? 

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WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY / Patrick Wang, Nalan Linda Zhao
CAST/ Jinbao Pei, Qinzi Pei, Nalan Linda Zhao, Ming Zhang, Qing Lu
COMPOSITION / Jinbao Pei, Qinzi Pei, Jianrong Chen
CELLO / Yelian He
DANCERS / Demitri Meyers & Emily Zhang
DIDGERIDOO / Daniel Richardson
CHINESE DRUM / Min Xu
NARRATION / Louisa Shi, Faye Liu
OPERA SINGER / Cindy Liu
VIOLIN /Alisa Chen

SCENIC DESIGN / Tony Huang
PROJECT COORDINATOR / Louisa Shi
STAGE MANAGER /  Zhi Wang
STYLING / Danhong Ling
SOUNDING ENGINEER / Phillip Zhang
ENGLISH TITLE, SYNOPSIS / Trevor Hay
SUBTITLES / Trevor Hay, Nalan Linda Zhao, Zhi Wang
ADVISORY GROUP / Echo Zixuan Cai, Guosheng Chen, Hong Fu, Marty Mei, Jill Morgan, Junxi Su, Yatong Wang, Jun Ye, Jianhua Zhou, Evan Hubbard

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