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Opera maestro hits the right note

Post Time:2008-03-11 Source:China Daily Author: Views:

NPC deputy Ke Jun looks at least a decade younger than his 43 years.

The renowned Kunqu performer is at the NPC session representing one of the oldest forms of Chinese opera.

Kunqu Opera goes back 800 years. It was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001.

"I would like to thank Kunqu Opera for keeping me young," Ke, dean of Kunqu Opera House in Jiangsu province, jokes with reporters.

Ke is an award-winning performer, known in China as the "Prince of Kunqu Opera".

But the opera maestro has a serious job to do, as he tries to keep his art form relevant in today's China.

"I've prepared at least six different versions of a single opera to try to appeal to different audiences," Ke said.

Winning over younger audiences is key to Kunqu's survival, and for Ke that means composing new works rather than just rehashing the old ones.

Ke is proactive when it comes to keeping his art alive. He sends teams to lecture and perform for university and middle school students to ignite their interest in Kunqu.

Those efforts are paying off. These days the Kunqu industry puts on an average 300 shows a year, compared with just 50 three years ago.

"Raising Kunqu performers's salaries is also crucial for its survival, especially for young trainees. We need more people to carry on traditional arts in China like Kunqu," Ke said.

Young Kunqu performers used to earn just 600 yuan ($84) per month. Now, they can make 1,500 yuan a month at his opera house.

Ke urged the government to guide more social sectors to channel funds into Kunqu.

"Government impetus is imperative to motivate people to invest. The private sector isn't confident about investing in the traditional arts," Ke said, adding that the traditional opera form has a huge potential market.

"The future is looking good for Kunqu, as the central government tries to develop the cultural industry and revive traditional arts after decades of fast economic growth," Ke said.

Born in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, where Kunqu began, Ke joined the local theater at 12 to avoid being "sent to the countryside", as many of his peers were, under government policy in the 1960s and '70s.

"But over time, I became totally enchanted by this art form and have given up many opportunities to make a fortune - as my counterparts did - during the bleak times," Ke said.
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