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Beijing Opera

An Introduction to Beijing Opera

Beijing Opera of China is a national treasure with a history of 200 years. In the 55th year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1790) , the four big Huiban opera Troupes entered the capital and combined with Kunqu opera, Yiyang opera, Hanju opera and Luantan in Beijing's theoretical circle of the time. Over a period of more than half a century of combination and integration of various kinds of opera there evolved the present Beijing Opera. Beijing Opera is the most significant of all operas in China, and it has a richness of repertoire, great number of artists and audiences, that give it a profound influence in China and plays a large role in Chinese culture

Beijing Opera is a synthesis of stylized action, singing, dialogue and mime, acrobatic fighting and dancing to represent a story or depict different characters and their feelings of gladness, anger, sorrow, happiness, surprise, fear and sadness. The characters may be loyal or treacherous, beautiful or ugly, good or bad, their images being vividly manifested.

The repertoire of Beijing Opera is mainly engaged in fairy tales of preceding dynasties, important historical events, emperors, ministers and generals, geniuses and great beauties, from the ancient times to Yao, Shun, Yu, the Spring and Autumn Period, the Warring States Period and the dynasties of Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing. Some of them also were adopted from the literature and classical novels, which are well known among the public but may not be an accurate account of history.

Some of the popular Stories during the history are: Orphan of Zhao Family; Fifteen Strings of Coppers; The Ruse of Empty City; Story of the White Snake; The Drunken Concubine; Unicorn-Trapping Purse.

The music of Beijing Opera is that of the "plate and cavity style".Its melody with harmonious rhythms is graceful and pleasing to the ears. The melody may be classified into two groups: "Xipi" and "erhong", guiding pattern, original pattern, slow pattern, quick pattern, desultory pattern being their chief patterns. The performance is accompanied by a tune played on wind instruments, percussion instruments and stringed instruments, the chief musical instruments being jinghu (a two-stringed bowed instrument with a high register), yueqin (a four-stringed plucked instrument with a full-moon-shaped sound box), Sanxian (a three-stringed plucked instrument), Suona horn, flute drum, big-gong, cymbals, small-gong, etc.

The costumes in Beijing Opera are graceful, magnificent, elegant and brilliant, and mostly are made in handicraft embroidery. As the traditional Chinese pattern are adopted, the costumes are of a high aesthetic value.

The types of facial make-ups in Beijing Opera are rich and various, depicting different characters and remarkable images, therefore they are highly appreciated. Moreover there are numerous fixed editions of facial make-up.

Since Mei Lanfang, the grand master of Beijing Opera, visited Japan in 1919, Beijing Opera has become more and more popular with people all over the world, and it has made an excellent contribution to cultural exchange between China and the West, to friendly association and to improvement of solidarity.

Beijing Opera Stage Set-up
In the past, stages in most Chinese theaters were square platforms exposed to the audience on three sides, even all sides sometimes. In the latter case, performances could be watched from the back also. An embroidered curtain known as a shoujiu was hung over the platform, which was thus divided into two parts: the back stage and the stage.

Famous Beijing Opera Players
The theatrical or musical occupation was considered the lowest class in the society. Opera performance used to be a male dominated profession. Mixed performances were prohibited. All the roles were played by male.

Roles in Beijing Opera
The ten Chinese characters shown on left are from a song sung in a Chinese New Year Eve television program. It probably says everything about the roles in Beijing Opera.

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