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Pianist Gu Jieting fuses Debussy's music with Kunqu Opera

CCTV.com

11-16-2016 20:45 BJT

It might seem that French composer Claude Debussy and Du Liniang, the heroine of The Peony Pavilion by Ming Dynasty playwrighter Tang Xianzu, have nothing in common. But pianist Gu Jieting has discovered a common thread between the two characters in her musical "Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang", which has been staged at Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts.

"Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang" combines Debussy's music with Chinese Kunqu Opera classic The Peony Pavilion, based on the work of Ming Dynasty playwrighter Tang Xianzu.

It might seem that French composer Claude Debussy and Du Liniang, the heroine of The Peony Pavilion by Ming Dynasty playwrighter Tang Xianzu, have nothing in common. But pianist Gu Jieting has discovered a common thread between the two characters in her musical "Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang", which has been staged at Beijing

It might seem that French composer Claude Debussy and Du Liniang, the heroine of The Peony Pavilion by Ming Dynasty playwrighter Tang Xianzu, have nothing in common. But pianist Gu Jieting has discovered a common thread between the two characters in her musical "Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang", which has been staged at Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts.

Tang's work centers around a love story. The heroine Du Liniang, a daughter from a rich family, falls asleep in her family garden and falls in love with a handsome young scholar, Liu Mengmei in her dream. Soon after, she falls ill and dies of lovesickness. But her soul meets the young scholar again in afterlife. He helps her return to life by reuniting her soul with her body and marries her.

In Gu's musical, Du Liniang shows up as an independent role, singing to the music selected from Debussy's piano repertoires, such as "Et la Lune Sescend" and "Clair de Lune".

The piano is played by director Gu Jieting, who is also a pianist. Gu says the inspiration for this musical comes from her own experiences. She learned to play piano at three years old and later continued her study at Conservatoire de Paris in France. And her family introduced her to Kunqu Opera at a very young age.

"Debussy is one of my favourite composers. When I first listened to his piano repertoires, I had the feeling that I heard the music before. But I didn't know why because I was very young. But When I later studied and better understood his music, I realized that it reminds me of the Kunqu Opera music and other traditional Chinese music I used to hear when I was a child. So I think maybe I can bring Debussy's music and Kunqu Opera together," Gu said.

However, do the two really go hand in hand?

"Nowadays, you can see more and more traditional Chinese performance in other countries. When I was in France, I found it's very difficult for foreign audiences to understand Chinese art and culture due to cultural differences. They need some guidance. And in this musical, Debussy's music is that guidance or cutting angle. And it can help them understand the character of Du Liniang and her story. Meanwhile, Chinese audiences can better understand Debussy's music as they already are familiar with the Peony Pavilion," Gu said.

Lyu Jia, a veteran Kunqu Opera performer of the Suzhou Kunqu Opera theater, plays the role of Du Liniang in the musical. She says playing Du to Debussy's music is a unique experience.

"At first, I also had doubts. Would the music match the character, the story and even the costumes? But When I sang to the music, I could feel the harmony. Because both the music and the story are about the same feelings," Lyu said.

"Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang" is Gu Jieting's first production as a stage director. A national tour will follow next year.

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