Venue: Liyuan Theatre
ADD: Qianmen Hotel, 175 Yong’an Lu, Xuanwu District
Duration: 1.5 hours (daily 19:30)
Summary: Peking opera is a traditional style of Chinese theatre performance and is regarded as the quintessence of Chinese culture, enjoying a history of more than 200 years.
Definition: Peking opera is a traditional style of Chinese theatre performance and is regarded as the quintessence of Chinese culture, enjoying a history of more than 200 years.
With its unique combination of music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics, Peking Opera is an ideal medium for interpretation and performance of traditional and historic myth and legend.
Peking opera is the old man in the history of Chinese opera. In the late 18th century, the Peking opera was formed. With its gradual development till mid-19th century, Peking Opera was recognized as one of the Chinese cultural treasures since Qing Dynasty for its popularity. Till now, this performance still sits in the top tier of the opera forms and has spread into the international stage.
Main types of performers
Peking Opera features four main types of performers namely the Sheng, the Dan, the Jing and the Chou. Performing troupes often have several of each type of these principals, as well as numerous secondary and tertiary performers. With their elaborate and colourful costumes, performers are the only focal points on Beijing opera's characteristically sparse stage.
The Sheng is the main male role in Beijing opera. All the male roles that do not belong to the Jing and the Chou can be called “Sheng”.
The Dan refers to all the female roles in Peking Opera. Although the role can be performed by both genders now, Beijing opera was initially an exclusively male pursuit, with all Dan roles being played by men. The Qianlong Emperor banned female performers in Beijing in 1772. The ban was lifted in 1912, although male Dan continued to be popular after this period and Mei Lanfang is a Dan, famous for his professional and unique style.
The painted face, in Chinese called “jing”, is a name for the male role that has some special characteristic or appearance. The role must have a strong voice and be able to exaggerate gestures, and the Jing’s face should be made up in strong colours such as red, white and black to express their characters.
The Chou is easily understood from the role’s name as a clown with an ugly appearance. His function in a performance is to provide light relief and comedy.
The instruments which are used to play the music can be divided into two parts. One is the percussion instruments, including drums, gongs and so on. The other one is orchestral instruments and the most typical one is jinghu, a small high pitched two stringed spike fiddle. With the musical backing of these instruments, the roles sing or speak their dialogues with the rhythm or perform Kong-fu.
There are three main characteristics of the facial make-up. It is a contrast of beauty and ugliness, deeply related to the personalities of the individual characters. The Sheng and Dan faces are simpler than the Jing and the Chou; the Jing’s facial make-up being the most colourful.
A Famous Opera Synopsis
Banquet at Hongmen (Hongmen Yan): This story is set in B.C. 206. Xiang Yu, a powerful warlord, invites Liu Bang, the future emperor of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC- 24 AD) to a banquet at Hongmen in an attempt to murder him. Forewarned of the murder conspiracy in advance, Liu's officers help him crush the conspirators.
Watching a Performance
Above all else, the skill of performers is evaluated according to the beauty of their movements, which are symbolic and suggestive, rather than realistic. Performers also adhere to a variety of stylistic conventions that help audiences navigate the plot of the production. There are six main types of song lyrics in Beijing opera: emotive, condemnatory, narrative, descriptive, disputative, and "shared space, separate sensations" lyrics. Each type uses the same basic lyrical structure, differing only in kind and degree of emotions portrayed. To the novice laowai, the sounds emanating from the stage might resemble cats courting more than singing. It is an acquired taste. Costumes function to distinguish the rank of the character being played and generally feature brilliant colours and rich embroidery. If you have the photographic skills to capture movement and colour, a Beijing Opera performance will reward you with rich imagery.