Su Xiaomei’s Three Questions
This opera is based on a story with the same title from “Lasting Words to Awaken the World” by Feng Menglong of the Mingdynasty.
Su Dongpo, the famous poet, has a brilliant sister, Xiaomei, who is no less talented than her father and two brothers. Coming of the age for marriage, her future spouse will be selected with care. Father Su Laoquandecides that the prospective son-in-law should be no less talented than the family into which he is marrying. He therefore asks that all suitors leave poems for Xiaomei’s discernment. She finally chooses Qin Guan, who is well matched with the whole family when it comes to literary talents.
Though he admires Xiaomei for her talent, Guan wonders if she may be as ugly as she is rumored to be. Informed of her routine of offering incense at the YueFeiTemple, he poses as a Taoist monk in order to catch a glimpse of her. Relieved to find an elegant and refined lady, he teases her with words and, to his delight, meets with witty retorts. Back home, Xiaomei learns that the Taoist monk is none other than her prospective spouse. Although delighted to find him compatible, she is irritated by his insolence.
On the wedding night, Xiaomei refuses to let Guan enter the bridal chamber unless he can answer three questions. The first and second, a poem and a riddle, Guan solves easily. He is baffled, however, by the last one—a matching stanza to complement the phrase: ‘closing the door / pushes out / the moon / in front of the window’. Getting anxious, Guan’sbrother-in-law throws a stone into the pond, splashing water onto him. He immediately gets an answer: ‘throwing a stone / penetrates / the sky / under the water’! The brilliant solution qualifies him to join his bride.