Inspired by Autumn at the Han Palace, a masterpiece of poetic drama written by Ma Zhiyuan of the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368), Lady Glory’s Trek to the North is a Kunqu theater replete with sophisticated singing, dexterous acting and dancing, which makes it a popular but most demanding work.
A great beauty, Lady Glory was a court lady-in-waiting in the Han dynasty (206 B.C-221 A.D.) at a time when the dynasty was dangereously threatened by the military strength of the Huns to the north. Much to her misfortune, Lady Glory fell prey to the plot of a traitorous and perfidious minister, Mao Yanshou, who suggested to the chief of the Huns that he demand her hand from the emperor of the Han dynasty. Out of cowardice and fear, the emperor agreed to the marriage proposal and Lady Glory was promptly sent on an arduous journey to the land of the northern barbarians.
The sadness suffered by the ill-fated Lady Glory and the hardships of the trek, made worse by the severe cold, join forces to heighten the dramatic power of the opera. In the classical Chinese theater, there is a famous saying regarding this scene, which is a comment on its great performing challenges on the performers of Lady Glory’s Trek to the North: Lady Glory’s challenge in singing the extended arias, Wang Long’s challenge in comic acting, and the stable boy’s challenge in acrobatic stunts.