Combining music, acrobatic dance, theater and bright costumes, the Chinese Opera makes the narrative of stories based on historic past and on the Chinese folklore.
In abstract and symbolic body movements, rich in dramatic contents, the comedians, the singers, the dancers, the clowns and the acrobats embody characters of the heroic, divine and animal old Chinese legends world, often staged in warlike performances. The traditional make-ups, close to the mask, and the elaborate costumes allow a well educated public to identify without hesitating the characters.
The main opera is the one of Beijing; there are also main troupes in Tianjin in the north, Shanghai in the south and Taiwan.
The Beijing Opera was inscribed on UNESCO's “World Intangible Cultural Heritages List”on November 16th, 2010.
A big part of the Chinese considers the Beijing Opera as the quintessence of the Chinese culture.
This highly respected traditional art form is less popular than at its golden age -young people are no so much interested in it -, but nevertheless, each knows what is the Beijing Opera and it has broaden to other countries such as the United States and Japan.
200 years of history only, but an enormous popularity as it is adopted by all the classes of the population.
In China, this art form was known under various names according to the period and place. The first Chinese name was formed by a combination of the names of the major melodies Xipi and Erhuang, it was called Pihuang. Further to a greater popularity, its name became Jingxi or Jingju, who anchors the origins in the former capital Jing, and the character of presentation turned to, Xi.
From 1927 until 1949, Beijing was identified under the name of Beiping, and the Beijing Opera was then acknowledged under the name of Pingxi or Pingju to confirm the change. Finally, with the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the name of the capital reverted to Beijing and the official name of Beijing theatre in Mainland China was established as Jingju.
This form of scenic expression originated from the middle period of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) of a synthesis of ancient theatrical styles.
Beijing opera was born when the 'Four Great Anhui Troupes' brought Anhui opera, or what is now called Huiju, to Beijing in 1790, to celebrate the birthday of the Qianlong Emperor.
Indeed, it was originally staged for the court and only made accessible to the public later.
In 1828, several famous Hubei troupes arrived in Beijing and performed jointly with Anhui troupes. The combination gradually formed Beijing opera's melodies.
Although it is called Beijing Opera (Beijing theatre style), its origins are in the southern Anhui and eastern Hubei, which share the same dialect of Xiajiang Mandarin (Lower Yangtze Mandarin) and has two main melodies, Xipi and Erhuang, were derived from Anhui opera after about 1750.
Xipi literally means 'Skin Puppet Show', referring to the puppet show that originated in Shaanxi province. Much dialogue is also carried out in an archaic form of Mandarin Chinese, in which the Zhongyuan Mandarin dialects of Henan and Shaanxi are close.
It besides absorbed music from other operas and local zhili musical art forms; many principles of staging, performance elements, and aesthetic principles were retained from Kunqu, the form that preceded it as court art.
The Beijing Opera was really established in 1845.
In China, the quantity of presentations, actor, troop and admirer of the Beijing Opera, as well as its influence, are all in front line.
Beijing opera performers use four main skills. The first two are song and speech. The third is dance-acting. This includes pure dance, pantomime, and all other types of dance. The final one is combat, which includes both acrobatics and fighting with all manner of weaponry. All of these abilities are expected to be performed effortlessly, in keeping with the spirit of the art form.
Beijing Opera was originally exclusively for males. The Qianlong Emperor had banned all female performers in Beijing in 1772. The appearance of women on the stage began unofficially during the 1870s. Female performers started to take off male roles. Their talents were rewarded when Li Maoer, a former performer, founded the first female troupe in Shanghai and where by 1894, the first public female stage took place. This encouraged other female troupes to form, which gradually increased in recognition. As a result, theatre artist Yu Zhenting petitioned for the lifting of the ban after the founding of the Republic of China in 1911. This was accepted, and the ban was revoked in 1912, although male Dan continued to be popular after this period.
The roles of the Beijing Opera divide generally as follows: the Sheng (生) is the main male role, the Dan (旦) refers to any female role, the Jing (净) is a painted face male role and the Chou (丑) is a male clown role. Moreover, the painted face is the most special character of the Beijing Opera.
It is generally considered that the first period of prosperity of the Beijing Opera is at the end of the 19th century. During this period, the performances took place not only in the campaign, but also in the imperial palace and it developed in an unprecedented speed under this joint influence. Thanks to the Imperial Family, the Beijing Opera possessed a very good condition to improve its shows, costumes, the painted faces and its decorations.
The second remarkable period arrived between 1920 and 1940 through the appearance of schools, the most famous of which were founded by Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), Shang Xiaoyun (1900-1976), Cheng Yanqiu (1904-1958) and Xun Huisheng (1900-1968). Every school included many known actors, who played actively on the boards of Beijing and Shanghai. The Opera of Beijing was trendy during the time.
Mei Lanfang, the most famous actor of the Opera of Beijing all over the world, began the learning to play theater at the age of 8, and rose on the scene at the age of 11. During his 57 years of career, he brought creative changes in the singing, to the dialogue, to the dance, in the music, costumes and in make-up of the Dan roles. He created an emblematic style. In 1919, Mei Lanfang was on tour in Japan with his troop. It is the first time that the Opera occurred abroad. In 1930, his visit in the United States obtained a big success, and 4 years later, it was invited to visit Europe. This drew the attention of the world on the Beijing Opera.
After the Reform and Opening of China, the Beijing Opera acquired a special status of "political symbolism" and received more monetary support than other forms of theater. Today, stage plays take place during all year in the Chang An Grand Theater in Beijing. International Concurs are organized for the amateurs every year. Moreover, the Opera of Beijing is always the directory in the cultural exchanges between China and foreign country.
Don’t miss the opportunity to discover this highly respected art form rich in symbolic meaning during one of your tour in China!
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