'Kunqu Opera Saint' memorial hall to open soon
The memorial hall to remember Yu Sulu (1847-1930), known as the "Kunqu Opera Saint," will soon open to the public in Cangcheng Old Town, a historic protection zone in Songjiang District.
The hall was transformed from an ancient architecture once owned by a local landlord during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The two-story, brick-and-wood house offers visitors a quick glimpse of the performer's art life.
Born into a family of martial arts masters, Yu began horseback archery in his adolescence in a military camp in Shanghai's Songjiang District. He worked as a defense officer in Jinshanwei (now Jinshan District) and later was assigned to Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, as an assistant military administrator for the Taihu Lake navy.
But he adored Kunqu Opera so much that in 1894, he resigned from all of his official positions and dedicated his life to the performing arts.
For nine years, he studied with Han Huaqing, a famous Kunqu artist in Louxian (now in Jiangsu). He gradually learned over 200 Kunqu Opera pieces, developing his own singing style known as the "Yu Style."
According to Chinese opera theorist Wu Mei (1884-1939), "He (Yu) was one of the few who transmitted the true style of Ye Tang (a Kunqu master in the Qing Dynasty). When he sang, Yu used his stomach energy, so his voice was extremely penetrating, like delicate sun rays through the breeze."
Yu's style had a significant influence on Kunqu singing in southern Jiangsu and western Zhejiang provinces. At the age of 75, he recorded 13 albums for the Shanghai Baidai Gramophone Company.
The memorial hall's biggest highlight is an old opera stage set up in the back courtyard.
"Whether you're a professional, an amateur or a local resident, you can get on the stage and show your talent," said Zhou Xia, deputy manager of Cangcheng Old Town Development Co Ltd.
Not just a master singer, Yu was also good at calligraphy, as well as metal and stone inscriptions.
Four characters qu jin qi miao (曲尽其妙), meaning "perfection in every detail," selected from Yu's own handwriting, were inscribed on a board over the stage. Some of his works of ink writing and his previous collections of bronze and stone rubbings are also on view at the hall.
In the near future, beautiful opera costumes from the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe will be on display to enrich the exhibition.