The Peony Pavilion, written by Tang Xianzu in 1598, was the most popular play of its day. Its celebration of love gave it a near-cult status. Tong Dik Saang, a renowned Cantonese opera dramatist, adapted this classic play in 1956. Since then The Peony Pavilion has been one of the four most well-known Cantonese operas in the repertoire.
The Peony Pavilion is centred on the love and passion of a young couple. A high official named Dou in the Ming dynasty has only one child, a beautiful and clever daughter, called Dou Leineng. One spring day, while Leineng visits the family garden, she falls asleep and is approached in a dream by a handsome young scholar, with whom she then has a romantic affair in the Peony Pavilion. Awakening from her dream, she becomes pensive and depressed. Eventually she dies of longing for her beloved. Three years pass by quickly. By fate, this young scholar called Leo Mungmui ends up staying at Dou’s former residence where he picks up a self portrait of Leineng at the Peony Pavilion. One night, while he is admiring the beauty of the young maiden in the painting, Leineng as a spirit appears to him. They renew the passionate relationship they enjoyed in their shared dream in the past. At her request, Mungmui disinters her body and she comes back to life. The two young lovers then marry in a hurry. When the young couple go back to visit Leineng’s parents, her father refuses to sanction their marriage and accuses Mungmui of robbing Leineng’s grave. Finally only with the help of the emperor’s decree is the father willing to acknowledge the marriage of the two lovers.
The Peony Pavilion is a play about fervent love and burning passion. If one has discovered genuine love, one will pursue it relentlessly, even to the point of dying for it. In short, stifling traditions cannot stop great love which can transcend even death.
明朝南安太守杜寶，有女名叫麗娘，時年十八。杜及夫人對女管教極嚴，並延聘老儒生陳最良為教席。一日，麗娘遊園夢一書生手持柳枝趨近；二人互生情愫，書生自稱柳夢梅。及後，麗娘為落花驚閃而醒，發覺乃南柯一夢。麗娘終病重而死。其父依她遺願將麗娘葬於梅花樹下；並立一所梅花觀命其師陳最良及石道姑和妙傅三人打理。 三年後，有秀オ名柳夢梅路過梅花觀，並得陳最良之准許於南樓借宿一宵。夢梅於觀內拾獲麗娘丹青又見畫上題詩感到與畫中女子曾有奇緣。其後麗娘鬼魂到來述說自己身世及因遊園驚夢而亡。夢梅想到麗娘為他而死也欲殉情，但麗娘反要他於明日辰時前破棺助她重生，好使二人可再續前緣。 杜夫人一直憶女成疾，杜寶遣人護送她回南安休養。路經杭州麗娘居處得石道姑告知麗娘重生及與夢梅成親經過。夫人初則不悅及後聞知夢梅高中即大喜，並囑麗娘趕往淮陽見父。 此時陳最良已向杜寶報訊；說麗娘遭書生柳夢梅掘墳棄屍；杜寶聞訊大怒；故當夢梅登門詳述麗娘死回生經過，杜以為夢梅被鬼迷命人把他吊於天窗之下，並用柳枝拷打圖使他還回原形。適時，苗舜賓奉皇命找新科狀元；柳夢梅被釋並換過狀元袍；與杜寶同往金鑾殿面聖，二人各執一詞，宋帝難於定奪，乃命麗娘上殿並用各種驗証人鬼方法均見麗娘並無異樣。遂宣佈麗娘再生為人並賜封淮陰公主更承認她與柳夢梅之婚姻，杜寶與柳夢梅亦前嫌盡釋一家團圓。