A Life in Kunqu by Sherre Delys

In May 2010, APE Artistic Director, Sally Sussman traveled to Beijing with old friend, mentor and creative colleague, Xu Fengshan (许凤山) to see him perform in A Festival of Kunqu, one of the oldest forms of Chinese Opera characterised by the lyricism of its poetic language and distinctive colour of its flute accompaniment.

The Festival celebrated UNESCO's designation of Kunqu as a masterpiece of intangible cultural heritage. It was an exhilarating journey back in time, when Sally evoked her pivotal experience training in Beijing Opera in Beijing in the ‘80s and her first exciting directing experiences with Chinese performers in Mandarin. Invited by Campbelltown Arts Centre to facilitate and interpret for video artist Kate Murphy, and ABC Radio’s Sherre Delys, Sally became an unwitting feature of Xu’s story in Sherre’s “A Life In Kunqu”, which flips between Xu’s homecoming performances in Beijing and Xu’s life in Macquarie Fields near Campbelltown since 1997.

It was wonderful to see Xu Fengshan in his home and professional context. He IS very well respected by the opera community and within his troupe, with every aging female diva lining up to perform with this very irreverent, but consummate performer. A master of female roles, Sally introduced Xu Fengshan to Sydney audiences in the ground-breaking Orientalia, in which he played the famous opera diva, Mei Lanfang to Nigel Kellaway’s Brecht in a hilarious encounter of cross-cultural projections, miscommunications and curious hybrids. Having been banned from performing female roles during the 1957 anti-Rightist campaign, it was in Sydney 40 years later that Xu was again given the opportunity to perform the female roles. Back in China in 2010 for the Festival, as one of the last generation of Kunqu masters, he performed in a showcase performance at the prestigious National Theatre in Tiananmen Square. He also taught and mentored some of the young stars of his former troupe, The Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre.

Project details
Presented and produced by Sherre DeLys (ABC Radio National ‘Into The Music’)
Translations by Sally Sussman
Engineer: Timothy Nicastri