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Officer adept at singing Kunqu Opera - March 22, 2019


Yu Sulu (1847-1930) was a Songjiang native whose ancestors served as military officers in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Born into a family that placed an emphasis on martial arts training, Yu started to learn archery, horse riding and martial arts when he was a teenager. He was employed as a defense officer in Jinshanwei (now Jinshan District) in 1881. Later Yu was transferred to the assistant military administrator post of the Taihu Navy in neighboring Suzhou Prefecture (now the city of Suzhou).
Adept at military affairs, Yu was also skilled at epigraphy. In his early years, he acknowledged calligrapher Shen Jingxiu (1835-1899) as his master. He focused on practicing calligraphy and wrote in the Northern Dynasties (386-581 AD) style known for its vigor and magnitude. Yu was also good at identifying authentic painting and calligraphy works.
Throughout his life Yu loved singing Kunqu Opera. In 1894 he quit his job as military administrator and focused on studying the artform. He was apprenticed to kunqu master Han Huaqing for nine years.
Nine years later Yu thoroughly mastered the art of kunqu singing. He stressed melody, voice, rhythm and breathing, and formed his own Yu-style of kunqu singing.
Yu was quite influential in kunqu in south Jiangsu and west Zhejiang provinces. To promote the art, he taught dozens of disciples and around 10 people succeeded in mastering the art.
Yu was nicknamed “Kunqu Opera Saint” in his later years. He recorded 13 albums with the help of the Shanghai Baidai Gramophone Company at the age of 75. Most of the songs recorded were for roles of young officials or intellectuals. Yu Zhenfei, son of Yu Sulu and also a renowned Kunqu Opera singer, compiled two books entitled “Music Scores of Yu Sulu” in 1953 based on the training he received from his father.

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