Master of Kunqu: Yu Zhenfei
Kunqu first appeared in the late Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), some 600 years ago, in the lower Yangtze Valley. It was named after its birth place, Kunshan, near the city of Suzhou in today's Jiangsu Province.
The new opera form quickly gained popularity, and by the 16th century, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it had spread across the country. There are two schools of Kunqu - the Southern Kun, which is prevalent in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, and the Northern Kun, prevailing throughout north China.
Yu Zhenfei, born in Songjiang (present-day Shanghai), was the best-known maestro of Kunqu in the first half of the 20th century. His artistry in Kunqu is comparable to that of the famed Mei Lanfang in Peking Opera. Yu Zhenfei himself attributed much of his success to his thorough study and appreciation of classical literature.
Yu began to learn Kunqu at the age of six from his father who was then a Kunqu actor. Yu Zhenfei is not only good at Kunqu but also at Peking Opera, and at the age of 14, he made his debut as Xiaosheng.
In the 1940s, he went to Hong Kong to perform. It was in 1957 that he returned to Shanghai and became the head master of Shanghai Drama School.