The Butterfly Lovers

The Yale Symphony Orchestra playing beneath Woolsey Hall's famous pipe organ.

The story began on a picturesque spring day. Liang Shanbo met Zhu Yingtai, a female dressed in a boy’s disguise, at a wayside arbor.  In that moment, they avowed to become sworn brothers. As students, three happy years of close affinity passed quickly and the two had to return to their homes. Zhu’s anxieties were clear: she had been arranged to marry someone else. Zhu’s protest against an undesired marriage presents the climax of the conflict. Liang confesses his longing for Zhu, but upon discovering that Zhu will be married, he died of heartbreak. Zhu pours out her grief into the heavens at Liang’s tomb after his forlorn death, begging for the tomb to open and invite her inside to die with her true love. The tomb opens and Zhu plunges inside. Out of the tomb flies a pair of butterflies, which are believed to be the transfigurations of the deceased lovers.

On October 16th, the Yale Symphony Orchestra told this story without words, without actors, without props, and without a motion picture. They told this story though music. As I watched world-renowned violinist Sha lead the orchestra in the tale of the Butterfly Lovers, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the music and the magnificence of Woolsey Hall.

Before coming to Yale, I wasn’t much of a music person. I listened to the sometimes-catchy pop songs on the radio and occasionally sung along. But the Yale Symphony Orchestra takes music to a whole new level. You just have to see (and hear) them to believe it.