Sichuan Opera

Written by Sally Guo Updated Jun. 23, 2021

Sichuan Opera has been considered to be a dazzling and attractive pearl of the traditional Chinese opera family. With a long history, Sichuan Opera has been characterized by numerous excellent traditional theatrical pieces of plays, abundant and colorful musical compositions, and exquisite and accomplished performing arts. It has also been widely loved as a form of traditional folk art by people from the southwestern provinces of China including Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan.

As an important part of the Sichuan culture, Sichuan Opera originated and was developed initially in the city of Chengdu, which nowadays is the capital of the province and is well known as the Hometown of Operas. As early as in the Tang Dynasty (618AD-907AD), there was a popular saying that goes, "Sichuan Opera was the No. 1 opera under heaven". During the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644AD-1911AD), the local people developed the Sichuan Opera based on the local Chedeng Opera, which was one of the local folk art forms and was usually performed by several people who rapped stories while dancing and singing. At the same time, different styles of vocal cavities from provinces of Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Anhui, Hubei, Shaanxi, and Gansu were absorbed into the Chedeng Opera, which was finally developed into the famous Sichuan Opera, which was performed and sung in Sichuan dialect, hence the name.

Of all the vocal cavities of the Sichuan Opera, the form of High Cavity, which was usually performed by Acappella, was the most famous one. It was always beautifully and vividly performed, as a result, it gradually became the main performing form and the most representative vocal cavity of Sichuan Opera. The languages of the opera were quite lively and vivid, humorous and funny, with unique and special local features and abundant life-breath. All of this made it popular among the common people. There are nowadays hundreds of different lists of plays which are often performed on the stage for audiences. The performing techniques include singing, moving, rapping, and fighting, full of excellent and humorous lines which are accompanied by different musical instruments and various styles of vocal cavities. There are also the famous and extraordinary techniques of face-changing, fire-spouting, and sleeve-shaking, which could only be seen in Sichuan Opera. All in all, different unique features have made Sichuan Opera widely loved by people from all over China as well as in the whole world. The Legend of the White Snake and Jinshan Temple, which is one of the most famous plays of Sichuan Opera, is especially enjoying widespread popularity both at home and abroad.

The Unique Technique---- Face Changing

Face-changing is a special technique that is widely used in the performing art of Sichuan Opera to build characters, and it is also a very romantic way to expose the thoughts and emotions of different characters of the play.

It is widely believed that the skill of face-changing could be traced back to ancient times. In order to scare away the dangerous animals and protect themselves, the ancient people painted their faces in different colors, making themselves look fierce and ferocious. Later this technique was absorbed into the art of Sichuan Opera and gradually developed into a unique and famous art form.

Generally speaking, there are three kinds of techniques of face-changing, including wiping the face, blowing the face, and pulling the face. In addition, there is sometimes the skill of changing the color of the face by breathing.

Before performing the technique of wiping the face, the actor will first smear some special grease paint on certain parts of the face. While on the stage, he could change the color of his face by wiping it. If he wants to change the color of the whole face, he smears the greasepaint on the forehead of his eyebrows, if he just wants to change the color of the lower part of his face, he could put the greasepaint on the nose or one part of his face. If the actor only wants to change the color of a certain area of the face, he just needs to smear the greasepaint on that part. The skill of blowing the face could be fulfilled when powder cosmetics are used for the actors to make up, such as powdered gold, powdered toner, or powdered silver. Sometimes a small box full of cosmetic powders is placed on the stage, and the actor just needs to do a movement of kissing the ground. During the process, he blows the box, and then the powders are blown to his face, changing the color into another. In order to achieve this, the actor must close his eyes and mouth, and hold his breath at the moment of puffing the powders.

The skill of pulling the face is much more complicated. Firstly, the artists have to paint various types of a facial makeup on different pieces of silk and then cut them into the shapes of faces with scissors. After that, each piece of them is tied with a thin thread and stuck to the face of the actor. And the different threads are connected to a certain convenient and unattractive part of the clothes, such as the belt. During the performance of the play, under the cover of the dancing movements, the actor pulls each piece of the facial makeups, therefore the color of the face is changed. It is very difficult to perform it because the number of adhesives used to stick the facial makeups to the face must be controlled very carefully, otherwise, the actor could perhaps pull off none or all of them. What's more, the actor must do the movements very quickly and keenly, and deceptive movements to cover up the action of pulling the thread must be very reasonable to the audiences.

In a word, the skill of face changing is very unique and amazing in the arts of Sichuan Opera and it has been widely used as a source of reference by many other forms of operas both in China and the rest of the world.

Sichuan Opera, which is deeply welcomed and loved by the local people as well as visitors in cities of Chengdu and Chongqing has become one of the main forms of local entertainments in these places at night. The performance of Sichuan Opera could be found almost in all the big and small tea houses in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, of which the most famous tea houses include the Shunxing Old Teahouse at No.258 Shawan Road, Qingyang Taoist Temple at the inner part of the first ring road, and Shufengyajun Teahouse on Qintai Road, Chengdu City.

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