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Chinese Opera

Chinese opera is a traditional dramatic form which sizes literature, music, dance, fine arts, martial arts and acrobatics. Its origin can be traced back as far as to primitive society and the prototype of Chinese opera already appeared in the Song Dynasty 800 years ago. In the long course of evolution, it was enriched and improved and gradually formed a complete artistic system of its own. There are many tune systems in Chinese opera which are typical features to distinguish one opera from another. The operas derived from different dialects, folk songs and folk music and at the same time interacted on each other. Roles or characters are divided into four categories: Sheng (males), Dan (females), Jing (males with painted face) and Chou (clowns). Its acting is featured by highly stylized movements from daily life and by a very imaginative usage of the stage to deal with the problem of space, emphasizing singing , acting , reciting and skilful acrobatic fighting.

Chinese opera has more than 360 local types, totalling more than ten thousand plays. After the founding of the people's Republic of China, many revised traditional plays, newly arranged historical plays and plays reflecting contemporary life have appeared on stage and were warmly received by vast audiences. More than fifty Chinese operas enjoy great popularity, such as Beijing Opera, Kun Opera, Shaoxing Opera, Yu Opera. Yue Opera, Qin Opera, Chuan Opera, Ping Opera, jin Opera, Han Opera, Chao Opera, Min Opera, Hebei Clapper Opera, Xiang Opera, Huangmei Opera and Hunan Huagu Opera. Beijing Opera enjoys special reputation all over China.

Beining Opera, once called 'Peking Opera', is the most influential and representative of all operas in China and has a history of about 200 years. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a local opera troupe from Anhui Province came to Beijing and brought its 'Hui Tune' (which originated in Anhui Pronince and was called 'Pihuang' opera) to the capital. It soon became prevalent. In the course of evolution, it partly drew and adopted repertoire, tune and manner of perfromance from Kun Opera (a local opera from Jiangsu area) and Qin Opera (a local opera from Shaanxi Province) as well as folk tunes, gradually developing into what we now call Beijing Opera. Placing emphasis on dancing as well as on singing, it adopted the skills of Chinese martial arts and created its own uniquely stylized, fictitious and strongly rhythmical movements.Singing and reciting show elaborate articulation and phrasing . Systemized in its four categories of singing, acting reciting and acrobatic fighting, Beijing Opera has exerted a strong influence on other local operas.

Beijing Opera

Beining Opera, once called 'Peking Opera', is the most influential and representative of all operas in China and has a history of about 200 years. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a local opera troupe from Anhui Province came to Beijing and brought its 'Hui Tune' (which originated in Anhui Pronince and was called 'Pihuang' opera) to the capital. It soon became prevalent. In the course of evolution, it partly drew and adopted repertoire, tune and manner of perfromance from Kun Opera (a local opera from Jiangsu area) and Qin Opera (a local opera from Shaanxi Province) as well as folk tunes, gradually developing into what we now call Beijing Opera. Placing emphasis on dancing as well as on singing, it adopted the skills of Chinese martial arts and created its own uniquely stylized, fictitious and strongly rhythmical movements.Singing and reciting show elaborate articulation and phrasing . Systemized in its four categories of singing, acting reciting and acrobatic fighting, Beijing Opera has exerted a strong influence on other local operas.

Roles in Beijing Opera are divided into the four Hangdangs (categories) of Sheng, Dan, Jing and Chou, representing male, female, old, young, beautiful, honest and dishonest. Beijing Opera mainly presents historical stories. Out of its more than 1300 plays, about 400 are often on show.

A typical artistic feature of Beijing Opera is highly exaggerated and decorated facial makeups whose symbolic identification-like its splendid hairdresses and costumes-dramatically displays the characters of the good, evil, honest and dishonest.

The orchestra in Beijing Opera consists of wind and string instruments as well as percussion instruments. Jinghu, a small two-stringed bowed instrument, plays a main part. In the more than one hundred years that have passed, many famous singing actors, drum masters and Jinghu masters contributed a lot to the development of Beijing Opera. Famous male actors were Tan Xinpei, Yu Shuyan, Yan Jupeng, Ma Lianliang and Zhou Xinfang. The most famous actors who played female roles were Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Shang Xiaoyun and Xun Huisheng.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Beijing Opera troupes have performed abroad many times. They caused a sensation in the world and were warmly welcomed by the audiences.

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Shaoxing Opera

Shaoxing Opera is a local Chinese opera popular in the southern regions of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River. It originated around Shengxian County, Zhejiang Province, which belonged to the Yue State in ancient times and therefore it was also called Yue Opera. Shaoxing Opera has a history of about 80 years. It was derived from a kind of story-singing. At first, it was performed with only a small drum and hardwood clappers for rhythm and later, choral and orchestral accompaniment were added. It also drew some musical elements from Shao Opera and subsequently formed its own style.

Shaoxing Opera is noted for its lyricism and singing is dominant in it. Its tune is sweet and beautiful and the performance vivid and moving, full of local colour. Originally Shaoxing Opera was only performed by males who were later all replaced by females. After the founding of the People's Republic of China , both males and females performed together.

Well-known performers of Shaoxing Opera include Yuan Xuefen, Fu Quanxiang, Fan Ruijuan, Xu Yulan and Wang Wenjuan.

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Hebei Clapper Opera

Hebei Clapper Opera is one of the major forms of local opera in Hebei Province. Formerly known as Jing Bangzi, Zhili Bangzi and Wei (Tianjin) Bangzi, it adopted the official name of Hebei Clapper Opera in 1952. It is very popular in Beijing, Tianjin and some regions of Hebei, Liaoning , Jilin, Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia and Shandong Provinces. Hebei Clapper Opera is derived from Qinqiang and Shanxi Clapper Operas which were introduced to Hebei Province in the middle of the Qing Dynasty. Singing in Beijing dialect, its division of roles and its performance style are similar to Beijing Oprea. Xu Sheng (a male role with whiskers) plays the leading male role and his tune is forceful and solemn. The Qing Yi (female role) emphasizes singing with a loud and clear tune whereas Hua Dan stresses acting and dialogue. The tune sung by Hua Lian (a male role with painted face) is rustic and vigorous. Hebei Clapper Opera has a special acting role, the Jing Sheng , which combines Sheng costumes, Jing tunes and the performance style of both Jing and Sheng. Tune patterns of Hebei Clapper Opera include Man Ban (4/4, slow beat), Er Liu ('two-six' fast 2/4), Liu Shui ('flowing water' fast 1/4), Jian Ban (free beat, usually as prelude) and Ku Ban ('walling tune' free deat). The accompanying instruments are: Ban Hu (two-stringed Chinese fiddle), Di Zi (horizontal bamboo flute), Sheng (mouth organ) and percussion. The repertoire of Hebei Clapper Opera has more than 500 traditional and 200 contemporary plays. Well-known performers are Li Guiyun, Han Junqing and Yin Dazi.

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Kun Opera

Kun Opera, also called 'Kunshan Qiang' (the style of Kunshan) or 'Kunqu', originated in the Kunshan region of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China's classical operas with a history of more than 500 years.

During the reign of Emperor Jiajing, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.), Wei Liangfu, a famous musician, selected the essence of Haiyan Qiang and Yiyang Qiang (the styles of Haiyan and Yiyang) and created the well-known 'Shuimo Qiang', a set of well-designed and polished tunes, thus greatly developing Kun Opera.

Kun Opera has a complete system of acting as well as its own distinctive tunes. With a wide range of repertoire, its tunes are very delicate and elegant and its acting is vivid and touching. The orchestra consists of Dizi (a horizontal bamboo flute which plays the leading part in the orchestra), Xiao (a vertical bamboo flute), Sheng (mouth organ), Pipa (a plucked string instrument with a fretted finger board) etc, Many Chinese local operas are greatly influenced by its tunes and acting.

There are two schools of Kun Opera: the Southern Kun which is prevalent in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and the Northern Kun prevailing in North China.

Representative actors and actresses of Kun Opera are Yu Zhenfei, Han Shichang Li Shujun, Hong Xuefei and Wang Chuansong.

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Yu Opera

Yu Opera, also called, 'Henan Clapper Opera' or 'Henan High Tune', is a major local opera in Henan Province and enjoys nationwide popularity. There are four styles in Yu Opera: Xiangfu (from Xiangfu County), Yudong (East Henan), Yuxi (West Henan) and Shahe (Shahe Couty). It is noted for its skill-demanding melodies, its fluent tune, strong rhythm and its intensive use of spoken language. Its simple and plain performance as well as its strong local flavour always provoke the applause of the audience.

There are more than 600 traditional plays in the repertoire of Yu Opera. Famous performers are Chang Xiangyu, Chen Suzhen, Cui Lantian, Gao Jie , Wei Yun and Ma Lin.

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Huangmei Opera

Huangmei Opera, once called 'Huangmei Tune' or 'Caicha Opera', is a local opera genre in Anhui Province, popular in some regions of Anhui, Jiangxi and Hubei Provinces. It is basically derived from the 'Caicha Tune' of Huangmei county which is a form of folk dancing and singing. At first it was noted for 'Liangxiaoxi' (two-role drama) and 'San-xiaoxi' (three-role drama) but then under the influence of Qingyang Tune and Hui Tune it gradually became a theatrical form which could present full-length works . Its tunes still keep the true flavor of folk songs, beautiful and touching, and singing while dancing also continues to be a feature of its acting style. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, Huangmei Opera has greatly developed and been warmly welcomed by the audience. Well-known performers are Yan Fengying, Wang Shaofang and Pan Jingli.

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Yue Opera

Yue Opera is a major genre of opera in the south of China, Prevalent in Guangdong and Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macao and overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Its singing and dialogue are all in Guangzhou dialect. Based on Banghuang Tune, it combines Kun Tune, Yiyang Tune, Guangdong Tune with Guangdong folk music and popular tunes. In addition to Chinese traditional instruments like Er Xian, Gao Hu. San Xian and Yue Qin (the former two are bowed string instruments, the latter two plucked string instruments), its orchestra has adopted Western instruments such as violin , saxophone, cello and double bass. In acting, stage scenery and lighting, it has borrowed from the techniques used in modern drama, Western opera and film and gradually formed its own distinctive features. Originally its characters were divided into ten categories, but later on reduced to six: civil and military male, scholar-lover, major female, secondary female , clown and military male. Included in the repertoire are 5,000-6,000 traditioal items. Leading actors and actresses include Ma Shizeng, Hong Xiannu, Luo Pinchao and Bai Jurong.

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Ping Opera

Ping Opera is very popular in Beijing , Tianjin , North and Northeast China. It has a history of more than 70 years. Developing out of 'Lian Hua Luo' in the east of Hebei Province (a kind of story-singing), it borrowed the tunes and acting style of Beijing Opera, Hebei Clapper Opera, shadow show and drum melody, and developed its own style. Since moving from the rural areas into the cities, it has produced many new programmes under the influence of modern drama and Beijing Opera. It is especially good at reflecting urban people's life as it has accessible text, speech-like tunes, easily understandable articulation and the rich flavour of life, thus gaining great favour of the people in rural and urban areas. At first, female characters in Ping Opera were dominant and their tune was beautiful and touching whereas the male's tune was quite simple. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the male's tune has been greatly developed and there are many new plays in which male characters play the leading roles.

Representative performers are Xiao Bai Yushuang , Xi Cailian, Xin Fengxia, Han Shaoyun, Wei Rongyuan and Ma Tai.

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Hunan Opera

Hunan Huagu Opera is the general name for minor local opera genres in Hunan Province, such as Changsha Huaguxi, Hengyang Huaguxi and Shaoyang Huaguxi which adopted the names of the regions where they are prevalent. Each opera has its own distinctive style. Derived from Hunan folk songs, it has developed from a two-role drama (a female and a clown) to a three-role drama (a young female, a young male and a clown). There are more than 400 traditional plays and 300 tunes in its repertoire. According to their formal structure and musical style, these tunes can be divided into four types: Chuan Diao, Daluoqiang, Paizi and Xiaodiao, all having a plain and straightforward local colour. Small Suona and percussions are the main accompanying instruments. The tunes are brisk and lively, particularly suitable to dancing-singing operas. Famous performers are Liao Chunshan, Wang Yousheng and Zhang Shusheng.

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  Information provided by China National Tourism Administration.

 

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