The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it will present a new version of The Peony Pavilion at its Astor Court in November and December. It will be a contemporary adaption of the 16th-century Kunqu opera masterpiece. The new version will be by composer Tan Dun and choreographer Huang Doudou. Tan’s new score, which recalls the style and themes of traditional Kunqu music, will be performed by a traditional Kunqu ensemble of four musicians, and will include taped elements.
The Peony Pavilion has become the Chinese Romeo and Juliet: readapted and reinterpreted by later artists over and over again. What’s the appeal? The story of The Peony Pavilion really stretches credibility – the heroine meets the hero in her dream, she then dies of lovesickness and appears in his dream to ask him for help to return her to life. I doubt even the most dreamy teenagers will ever imagine that to happen in real life.
But the lyrics belong to the best of Chinese literatures. The music and movement represent the pinnacle of Chinese theater art. As they say “Good artists borrow; Great artists steal.” So many artists have found something to borrow or steal from this great source of material. In this case, there’s also the benefit that, although many people have heard of the name “The Peony Pavilion”, most people have not seen a traditional staging of it. So whether it’s borrowed or stolen, most audience won’t be able to tell!