Kunqu opera, also called Kunshan Tune, is the oldest form of opera in China. Originate from the opera singing system of Kunshan, Suzhou in fourteen and fifteen centuries, Kunqu opera is a kind of performing art that combines singing, speaking, acting, acrobatic fighting, dancing and martial art. Characterized by elegant melody and lyrics, euphonious singing tune and exquisite performance, Kunqu opera is praised as “Ancestor of Chinese opera”. In 2001, Kunqu Opera was honored by UNESCO as “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” and Kunqu Opera was one of the four items that won full votes by a panel of 18 international experts. The representative works of Kunqu opera are Peony Pavilion, The Peach Blossom Fan, Romance of the West Chamber and so on.
During the Southern Song Dynasty period, southern opera (one of the local operas) developed rapidly, which features free, active and flexible style. In the process of spreading, southern opera was combined with local dialects and folk music and thus developed many different kinds of local tunes. The Kunshan Accent was the integration of Southern Opera and Kunshan local music, which was also the predecessor of Kunqu Opera. Later through the reform of Kunshan Accent by many folk musicians such as Gu Jian and Wei Liangfu, the artistic charm of new tune conquered vast audience at that time.
In the process of taking shape of Kunqu Opera, folk musicians played a key role while in the process of developing and boom of Kunqu Opera, the emerging of dramatists and their works became an important part. The formation of dramatist group such as Li Kaixian, Tang Xianzu, Shen Jing etc. and the appearance of two masterpieces Palace of Eternal Life by Hong Sheng and The Peach Blossom Fan by Kong Shangren were two marks of the blossoming of Kunqu Opera.
Come from the folk, Kunqu Opera once surpassed other simple opera forms and reached the peak of art at that age with its elegant and refreshing style. Kunqu opera has suffered a gradual decline since the eighteenth century because of the high-level technical knowledge it requires from its audience. Of the 400 arias regularly sung in opera performances in the mid-twentieth century, only a few dozen continue to be performed. The Kun Qu opera survived through the efforts of dedicated connoisseurs and various supporters who seek to attract the interest of a new generation of performers.
Proclaimed by UNESCO in 2001 as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage, this traditional Chinese art, once threatened with extinction, is now the object of renewed interest. Kunqu Opera has a history of more than 600 years, nowadays Kunqu has added many fashion elements and been rewarded as highbrow art.