Romantic "Butterfly Lovers"
Introducing New Chinese Music Accompaniment

The third opera staged by Ya Yin Ensemble was Meng Yao's new version of "Liang Shan-po and Chu Ying-tai" (Butterfly Lovers), performed from May 7 to 9, 1981 at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. This annual grand event was still a sensation even before it was performed. This was indeed a rare phenomenon in the Chinese opera circle.

Having gone through the turbulence of "The White Snake and Hsu Hsien" and "Tou O's Earthshaking Grievance", the days of Ya Yin's preparation for "Butterfly Lovers" were surprisingly peaceful, enabling Kuo Hsiao-chuang to concentrate more on creative work. After "Tou O's Grievance", maestro Chinese artist Chang Ta-chien was even more concerned about Ya Yin. Hence during the rehearsal period of "Butterfly Lovers" he had read the script and suggested to change the names of Liang's page "Ssu Chiu" and Chu・s maid "Yin Hsin" to "Shih Chiu" and "Jen Hsin" respectively. On the one hand there were such names in Szechwan opera, on the other hand the Chinese saying "Shih chiu chien jen hsin" (Time reveals a person・s heart) had its special meaning. So Ya Yin made the changes accordingly during performance, rectifying the original popular forms to their proper styles.

Chang Ta-chien also took pains to design the costumes for Butterfly Lovers. He felt that the special characteristics of Peking opera costumes were bright and rich colors matching the painted faces. The usual costumes emphasized embroidery, with embroidered patterns concentrated from collars to front and back bodies, looking colorful and eye-catching. There should be possible innovation in "Butterfly Lovers". So he suggested using light colors as the theme, so as to reveal a simple and elegant style out of the plain colors, achieving an effect of clean colors. Kuo Hsiao-chuang happily accepted. So Maestro Chang started getting busy, totally immersed in costume design for "Butterfly Lovers". He gathered materials on various beautiful flowers: butterfly orchid, lilies, crabapple, lotus and camellia, etc. Then using realistic brushwork or patterns to make design drawings as decorations for costumes.

At this time, Kuo Hsiao-chuang had immediately invited the experienced costume tailor Jen Yu-chuan. He brought many varieties of light color soft silk cloths. Ta-chien and his wife picked and chose carefully, and finally selected 3 materials of pink, light blue and white. Mrs Chang was afraid that the tailor might not appreciate the Maestro・s idea. So she personally drew meticulous design drawings according to the actual measurements to be used, giving clear instructions time and again on how to embroider in order to achieve the effects required by the Maestro.

It did turn out that, since the audience were used to seeing bright colors in traditional Chinese opera costumes for centuries, now the costumes in "Butterfly Lovers" suddenly became simple and light in color, with simple cutting and simple and elegant patterns, they conveyed another taste and therefore were especially attractive and looked especially beautiful.

At the same time, Chang Ta-chien also painted and wrote in calligraphy on the paper fans and round fans that Kuo Hsiao-chuang were to use. Since Chu Ying-tai was to be dressed up as a boy, this was also the first time she played a male with a fan. The paper fan became her important prop. With Ta-chien the lay Buddhist personally painting the fans, that was most valuable. He also provided splash-ink landscape paintings for decorations of stage sets. Because of Maestro Chang's enthusiastic participation, preparation work for "Butterfly Lovers" was particularly full of warmth.

"Butterfly Lovers" was a household word in love story. The romantic love and tragic beauty of Chu Ying-tai (who disguised as a boy in order to enter school, and there fell in love with classmate Liang Shan-po, ending in a tragic death of both lovers, turning into butterflies) and Liang Shan-po, was a legend people kept telling and became moved by it down the centuries. In staging a brand new version of this opera, Ya Yin hoped to have innovation, attempting a "vitality" aroused by the new generation in both form and content. Kuo Hsiao-chuang was very fond of Butterfly Lovers and had very early watched the sensational movie version again and again. She could sing the songs in Yellow Plum Tunes. She felt that the drama was excellent, but it was also most important to have fine music.

She had new ideas about the music of "Butterfly Lovers". She wanted to introduce Chinese music into Chinese opera, and to become a principal part in this opera. In the past, in "The White Snake and Hsu Hsien" or "Tou O's Grievance", although Chinese music had been used, that was only accompanying the traditional opera music. This time she wanted to boldly use Chinese music significantly and formally, in equally significant quantity as traditional accompaniment. That was to say Butterfly Lovers would have a large amount of Chinese music accompaniment. Kuo Hsiao-chuang made a call at the Taipei City Chinese Orchestra to see musician Wang Cheng-ping. She explained her wish, and Wang Cheng-ping excitedly stated that he could give it a try. So she invited Hou Yu-tzung the Drummer King, Chu Shao-lung the Chin King and Wang Cheng-ping to plan and discuss in detail. How to combine traditional Chinese opera music with Chinese orchestral music as one. At the same time, Chinese opera singing style could also merge with newly arranged Chinese music accompaniment. Everybody was most excited about this new experiment.

Wang Cheng-ping led a 60-member orchestra from the Municipal Chinese Orchestra to take part in accompanying Butterfly Lovers. This was unprecedented in the history of Chinese opera. At first it was arranged to have this large group playing on stage. But they took up a large space. Adding the traditional accompaniment, the cast's acting area became very small. So they had to cordon off a temporary .orchestral pit・ in front of the apron stage to house the players. The traditional accompanists sat on stage according to old custom. But this meant two conductors, Wang Cheng-ping and Hou Yu-tzung, so they had co-ordinations time and again, and reached tacit agreement. This was not easy, especially when old Hou was so senior in age and still had a heart for seeking innovation and change. This greatly moved the Ya Yin personnel and in effect encouraged Ya Yin's progress.

Because of the "participation" of Chinese orchestral music, it became another innovative characteristic of this time's Butterfly Lovers. In the "18 Farewell" scene, Chinese music accompaniment was exclusively used. All singing scores were newly arranged by Wang Cheng-ping. This was a very innovative and very bold treatment. Besides the cast・s singing, there were also 3 passages of choral singing off stage. The new experiments were greatly appreciated. Besides, in creating the atmosphere of lovers bidding farewell and revealing their love, Chinese orchestral music had its effect and opened up new horizons for Chinese opera music.

Another innovative feature of Butterfly Lovers was that Kuo Hsiao-chuang used movie technique in directing: in the scene of Wedding and Death Parting, under the set and lighting designs by Nieh Kuan-yen, the stage was divided into two sets. This was also unprecedented in Chinese opera. The two lovers appeared separately in the two sets. Lights up and dimmed gave the signal, creating a dramatic tension of contrast, pounding strongly on the hearts of the audience. On this side, Shan-po was mortally ill, on that side Ying-tai was going to her wedding. On this side Shan-po had died and his mother wept in sorrow; on that side Ying-tai agreed to the marriage and her mother rejoiced. Kuo Hsiao-chuang used the techniques of cutting to short takes in movies. In the opera this was done with alternating short scenes to produce contrasts between characters and situations, attaining strong effects of tragic and happy, death and life. This positive enterprise of the directing function really injected a clear spring, a stream of enlivening water, into Chinese opera which was already showing signs of age.

"Butterfly Lovers" combined literature, music and art in one. Deep in the heart of Kuo Hsiao-chuang, there was perhaps another level of thinking. She hoped that she could create a new mode of performance for a new Chinese opera. When "Butterfly Lovers" was announced, the Chinese orchestral music was already softly playing the prelude. The feeling of elegance was very original. Then the music changed from dolce to melancholy, giving a background to the process of changing love. Then the big white curtain slowly rose. Chu Ying-tai entered. Obviously her industry and efforts won the recognition and ovation of the public. The show went on for 3 days and received continued good comments. The tickets were sold out well in advance. The 3 operas staged by Ya Yin in these 3 years, the popularity they enjoyed among audiences was a rare sight in Chinese opera over the recent 3 decades. Having gone through the trial of these 3 shows, Ya Yin had laid down a firm foundation. Having experienced life in adversity and favorable conditions, Kuo Hsiao-chuang had also really grown up.