Being the largest opera form in China, Beijing Opera is also commended as the “Oriental Opera”. It originates from 160 years ago and made several ‘firsts’ in Chinese dramas such as the number of artists, the abundance of repertoires, as well as opera troupes and spectators.
It was developed by absorbing different other dramatic forms like the local drama called ‘Huiban’ which was famous in South China in the 18th century. It is a picturesque art that integrates music, performance, literature, aria, and even face-painting. As the many artists practice long on stage, specific rules are set up and regulations are standardized. It is stricter when it comes to workmanship as compared to a regional play. Combining virtual and reality which is a special tactic of expression is what makes the opera largely free from the constraint of time and space on stage performance. The other names of Beijing Opera in history are Jinghuang, Daxi, Pingju, and Jingxi.
Four Sources of Creative Presentation
Beijing Opera depicts dramatic plays and figures mostly by integrating four artistic methods namely singing, dialogue, dancing, and martial art. Singing is used to strengthen the appeal of the art by utilizing different kinds of tones. Dialogue complements the singing which has lots of musical and rhythm sensation. Dancing pertains to the movements of the body which require high performing skills. Lastly, martial art is the combination and renovation of traditional combat moves with dances.
The Main Roles in a Beijing Opera Performance
This is the common name of the opera’s male characters and usually composed of Lao Sheng and Xiao Sheng. Lao Sheng actually pertains to the middle-aged man with a beard who performs as the decency figure. One example is ‘Empty City Scheme’s Zhugeliang. On the other hand, Xiao Sheng pertains to a young man that has no beard. The man named Zhangsheng in ‘The Story of the West Room’ is an example of a Xiao Sheng.
This is the general name for the female characters of the Beijing Opera which can be divided into Zhengdan, Huadan, Laodan, and Wudan. Also called as ‘Qingyi, Zhengdan plays the part of a middle-aged woman who is strong-minded and behaves elegantly. Hudan pertains to little girls who usually live in the society’s bottom. Laodan pertains to the senior woman and Wudan to a female that is good at fighting.
The painted face usually pertain to the male characters who have unique personality or appearance, like Caocao and Baozheng. Chou, on the other hand, is either a comic role, a villainous character, or a righteous person. Using a piece of white powder, the actor’s nose is painted white making him easily recognizable.
Lianpu, which is colorful dressing on the actors’ and actresses’ faces, is formed through the artists’ long-term practice and understanding, as well as judgment, of the different roles in the plays. The professional spectators can easily tell the characteristic of a role since the artists used transformative and exaggerated figures. That’s why it is also known as ‘the picture of hearts’. Particular formats of the facial painting are used when it comes to color, type, and shape. The eyes, foreheads, and cheeks are often painted like butterfly wings, swallows, and bats.
The Lianpu’s colors usually represent a characteristic. For instance, red signifies loyalty, like Guanyu, who was a great general in the Three Kingdom Period (220-280). Black symbolizes frankness and honesty, like Lord Bao, who was a righteous official in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It can also mean abruptness and impertinence, like Likui, who was a significant figure in the popular Chinese ancient novel entitled ‘All Men are Brothers’. White, on the other hand, is for cattiness and cunning, like Caocao, who was a popular politician during the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).
Qimo is a universal designation for all forms of stage properties and simple settings that are used in any Beijing Opera performances. It usually comes from the experience of real life. For instance, a certain actor can rehearse the scene of galloping the horse by simply using a horsewhip without the need to ride an actual horse on stage. Another example is a bridge that is made up of 2 chairs that are standing on each side of a table. Storms can be depicted on the stage by dancing performers with umbrellas.
Four Famous Masters
There is a lot of popular masters who are really good at performing Beijing Opera. Probably the most notable and well-known locally and internationally are the Four Famous Dans namely Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqui, Shang Xiaoyun, and Xun Huisheng. They are experts in acting the role of Dan and each of them has his own creative feature. Examples of their wonderful performances are ‘Farewell My Concubine’ of Mei Lanfang, ‘Injustice to Dou’e’ of Cheng Yanqiu, ‘Lady Zhaojun Going beyond the Great Wall’ of Shang Xiaoyun and ‘Matchmaker’ of Xun Huisheng.
Beijing Opera is known to contain the soul of the Chinese national culture. Its exceptional charm motivates the beliefs of Chinese people. There is absolutely no doubt that Beijing Opera is a treasure of the country’s culture.
Beijing Opera Theaters
This is the most popular theater for witnessing the Beijing Opera. It is situated in Jianguo Hotel Qianmen and plays performances from 7 pm to 8:40 pm daily except on the Chinese New Year’s Eve. Its most frequent shows are The Crossroads, Autumn River, Pick up the Jade Bracelet, and Farewell My Concubine. Ticket prices range from CNY 200 to CNY 580.
Chang’an Grand Theater
Another good choice for watching genuine opera performances is the Chang’an Grand Theater that was constructed in 1937 at the Xidan Business Street. But in 1996, a new Chang’an Grand Theater was constructed in Dong Chang’an Avenue which has 80 seats in total. The ticket prices here are cheaper than the first theater, costing from CNY 80 to CNY 380.
Beijing Opera Theater
This theater only has opera performances on Fridays, weekends, as well as official Chinese holidays. It also has cheap prices ranging from CNY 50 to CNY 380. It is located in Ping’anli Xi Dajie, Xicheng District and has a seating capacity of 1,000.
Mei Lanfang Theater
Named by the exceptional opera Master Mei Lanfang, this theater has an audience capacity of 1,008. It is also located in Ping’anli Xi Dajie, Xicheng District and the ticket prices range from CNY 50 to CNY 280.