Showing posts with label Chinese Opera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chinese Opera. Show all posts

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Beijing Opera - History and Characters

Bejing Opera - Photo: Flickr
The Beijing Opera, with its distinctive Chinese opera masks, is one of China's most recognizable cultural icons. Combining Music, Dance, Theatre, and Martial Arts, it has existed for over 200 years portraying Historical Events and Literature with beauty, style, and dynamic performance. It is most prominent in Beijing, but almost every Province in China has some form of Opera theatre. With its elaborate costuming, complex musical orchestrations and seemingly limitless Make-up and Mask designs, the Beijing Opera is seeing revitalization in popularity with both young and mature audiences.

What is now called the Beijing Opera originally came from a combination of several sources. In about 1790, four great theatre troupes from Anhui came to perform for the Royal Family. They brought arias and melodies called Xi Pi. Around 1828, performers from Hubei came to the same area and staged combined shows adding their local pieces of music called Er Huang. These performances were for the Royals but soon were to become more mainstream during Emperor Qianlong's reign as well as support from the notorious Empress Dowager Ci Xi. During this time, thousands of pieces of repertoire were developed covering the historical events, classic novels and stories of China as well as revisions of Western stories.

There are four basic categories of characters in the Beijing Opera style.

· SHENG- The main Male actors in a performance. Either civil or military, there are several different aspects of training for the various lead male parts.

i. LAO SHENG- Senior Male roles, middle-aged man with a beard of black, grey or white. A soft or pleasant voice with dignity.

ii. XIAO SHENG- Junior male role or young man. No beard and a high sometimes shrill voice that may, on occasion, crack denoting immaturity and adolescence.

iii. WU SHENG- Acrobatic male roles or roles that require much activity. Military plays or civil plays that demand high standards of acrobatics. Performs the stylized martial arts fight scenes with sword or spear. Not usually trained as an opera singer.

iv. WAWA SHENG- Kids and children roles. DAN- Female roles of several categories.

i. QING YI ( Ch'ing I)- Lady of good character. Quiet gentle disposition. Graceful flowing movements in "water sleeves" costume. Elegant but not vivid. The singing voice is high pitched.

ii. HUA DAN ( Hua Tan)- Flirtatious young girl role. Usually not as high a social standing as Qing 
Yi. Coy and quick movements. A very difficult part to play. Attractive eye movements and continually changing facial expression. Vivid costume featuring handkerchief to flutter in her hand. Strong voice but more speaking than singing.

iii. GUI MEN DAN (Kuei Men Tan) - Young unmarried girl. This role may turn into Qing Yi or Hua Dan. Mischievous but not as much as Hua Dan. Immature reactions and movements.

iv. DAO MA DAN (Tao Ma Tan) - Female Warrior role. Trained for acting and singing but performs highly skillful martial movements often with a feathered headdress. Still a very feminine role. The now-famous role of Disney's "MULAN" was based on Hua Mulan who disguised herself as a man to prevent her father from being conscripted into the military. She served for 12 years during the SouthNorth Dynasty and was decorated as a national hero.

v. WU DAN (Wu Tan) - Female Acrobatic roles. Steps into any role that requires high acrobatic ability. Purely an acrobat but role can demand a talented actress to make for a successful performance.

vi. CAI DAN (Cai Tan) - Female Comedians. Serves to add relief to stressful scenes in serious plays. See also CHOU roles.

· JING- Painted face male roles. These parts are known more for courage and resourcefulness than for scholarly intelligence. Often a high-ranking general or warrior/official. Jing actors are usually extroverts. A robust, sometimes gruff, bass voice. Full of swagger and self-assurance. There are many common color schemes associated with Jing roles but some of the more common are easily recognizable.

v Red- Good character and virtuous person.

v White- Treacherous and guile

v Green-Lack of self-control, rash, stubbornness

v Black- Brusque character

v Blue- Wild perhaps a Robber

v Gold/Silver- Used only for Gods and Spirits

The facial painting patterns also give information about a character. There are hundreds of patterns and designs for many situations and roles.

There are 3 main types of Jing roles:

i. DONG-CHUI- (T'ung Ch'uei) Also know as Hei Tou (Black Face) this role is a good singer and usually a loyal General

ii. JIA ZI- (Chia Tze) - A very good actor for more complicated characters.

iii. WU JING- Fighting and acrobatics. Seldom plays a prominent role.

· CHOU- Comedy Roles. Dim but likable and amusing characters. Sometimes slightly wicked perhaps a rascal or a scholar/Prince who would not command much respect. There are two basic types of Chou roles:

i. WEN CHOU- Civilian roles.( Jailer, servant, merchant, scholar)

ii. WU CHOU- Minor Military roles but skilled in acrobatics

Of special mention should be the popular role of SUN WU KONG -The Monkey King.
This is a famous story of a Monks journey from China to India to collect scriptures to bring back to China... He is usually accompanied by a Pig for comedic effect, a not-so-learned monk to mediate the many quarrels and the Monkey King. This is played by a Wu Sheng actor. Known for the bent knees and an arms forward stance that imitate monkey movements. He has mastered Longevity, the 72 transformations of his physical body and can do somersaults in the clouds. Sun Wu Kong is followed by a troupe of monkeys who behave in the same manner but have individual personalities (greedy, naughty, sleepy, etc.). The Monkey King continues to be one of the most popular storylines in all of Chinese Opera Theatre.



The Opera Theatre form suffered during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when all traditional pieces were banned. New versions became stories concerning "Class Struggle". The "Eight Model Plays" were a very popular theme, as were stories concerning Communist Activities, Anti-Japan sentiment, and the Civil War against Nationalists. The traditional stories were allowed to be shown in 1978 but by then they seemed out of date and the productions lacked historical and theatrical knowledge. Audiences lost to more contemporary forms of entertainment were hard to replace with the exception of those who were children when the Beijing Opera was at its peak. Many who lived through the Cultural Revolution preferred the newer versions and still favor those melodies.

Campaigns exist to bring back this lost art form as well as other Theatrical Arts. The Plum Blossom Award, sponsored by the Chinese Opera Journal, gives awards, judged by the Journal, to new artists. The actors and actresses must be under 45 years of age and come from all over China. These and other competitions are seen on the CCTV, China's main television network, and radio stations, particularly during the New Years special concerts. There has even been designated a Beijing Opera Month.

In recent years, performances worldwide of Beijing Opera theatre have brought this marvelous art form to broader audiences. It has served as ambassador to the West providing many new opportunities for people to enjoy a performance style that rivals any of the Grand Operas and Symphonies of Europe and North America.

Timothy Jordan was born in Detroit, Michigan where he began a career in music at a very early age. Having studied with the regions top teachers and performers he set off on his own "MUSO SHUGYO" or musical wanderings and ended up in Boston, Mass. While there he has performed in some of the top music groups, touring, and recording for the living, television, theatre, and movies. His percussion skills took him to Japan where he had an intensive study with the drummers of KODO. Mr. Jordan also has studied several martial arts styles including Iaido, the Japanese Sword. He continues today to further his cultural studies and is currently the owner of an Asian art and cultural goods Internet retail business, LIVE COMPLETE and ZENSHO PRODUCTS.com

Article Source: EzineArticles



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

CHINESE OPERA

Beijing opera, more commonly known as Peking opera to westerners, is deemed the national opera of China. The accompanying music, singing and costumes are all fascinating and artistic. Full of Chinese cultural facts, the opera presents to the audience an encyclopedia of Chinese culture as well as unfolding stories, beautiful paintings, exquisite costumes, graceful gestures and acrobatic fighting. Since it enjoys a higher reputation than other local operas, almost every province of China has more than one Beijing Opera troupe, who is called "piaoyou" in Chinese. This kind of opera is so popular among Chinese people, especially seniors, that even a "Beijing Opera Month" has been declared.

Ópera de Beijing - China, Mar2012
Beijing Opera - Photo  by  Ana Paula Hirama 

It has existed for over 200 years. It is widely regarded as the highest expression of the Chinese culture. It is known as one of the three main theatrical systems in the world. Artistically, Beijing Opera is perhaps the most refined form of opera in the world. It has deeply influenced the hearts of the Chinese people. Although it is called Beijing Opera, its origins are not in Beijing but in the Chinese provinces of Anhui and Hubei. Beijing Opera got its two main melodies, Xi_Pi and Er_Huang, from Anhui and Hubei operas. It then absorbed music and arias from other operas and musical arts in China.

In the ancient times, Beijing Opera was performed mostly on open-air stages in markets, streets, teahouses or temple courtyards. The orchestra had to play loudly and the performers had to develop a piercing style of singing, in order to be heard over the crowds. The Beijing opera band mainly consists of orchestra band and percussion band. The former frequently accompanies peaceful scenes while the later often follows scenes of war and fighting. The commonly used percussion instruments include castanets, drums, bells and cymbals. One person usually plays the castanets and the drum simultaneously, which are the conductor of the whole band.



It is said that the facial painting art derived from the Chinese opera has different origins. But no matter what its origin is, the facial painting is worth appreciating for its artistic value. The paintings are presentations of the roles of the characters. For example, a red face usually depicts the role's bravery, uprightness and loyalty; a white face symbolizes a sinister role's treachery and guile; a green face describes surly stubbornness, impetuosity and lack of self-restraint. In addition, the pattern of the facial painting reveals the role's information too. In a word, the unique makeup in the opera allows the characters on the stage to reveal them voicelessly.

Liyuan Theater inside Qianmen Hotel in Beijing is an ideal place for you to enjoy some Beijing Opera.



Thursday, November 17, 2016

CANTONESE OPERA

Would I want to be a Cantonese opera singer? I attended a workshop at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and found the answer to that question. I learned there are 350 kinds of Chinese opera- each based on a different Chinese dialect. Cantonese opera is the genre most common in Hong Kong. The young woman who was our opera workshop instructor had been studying opera for five years. She told us she was only a beginner. It takes more than twenty years to become a really good performer. This explains why many 'opera stars' are over the age of fifty. Our guide taught us how to distinguish between male and female, and comic and tragic opera characters by their dress, make-up, voices and body movements.

Cantonese Opera exhibit at the Museum
Cantonese Opera exhibit at the Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After she had introduced us to the plot line of an opera we tip toed into a theatre where an opera was in progress and watched it for about twenty minutes. The female character sang in a falsetto voice all the time. The singers didn't always seem to know where the tune of their song was leading them and the audience was talking throughout the performance. Later our guide told us there are no written or designated notes in Chinese opera scripts. 

Actors are provided with only a set of lyrics. The singers make up the tune as they go along. The tradition of female characters using a falsetto voice is an ancient tradition stemming from a time when only male performers were allowed on the stage. They used a falsetto voice to sound feminine. A Chinese opera is apparently performed as a tribute to the gods. Since the deities are the intended audience, the human audience can talk and even eat or play games like mahjong or chess while the opera is going on without insulting the performers.

The second part of our tour took us through a museum exhibit where we saw opera costumes. They are extremely ornate and very expensive to create. Our guide explained the thick face paint worn by characters. Evil villains wear mostly white make-up, while good heroes have predominantly red faces. The museum had a computer program set up that allowed you to put on the make-up and costume of a classic opera character. You chose a character, positioned your face on the computer screen and then waited for your face to appear in the costume and make-up of that character. I chose a Warrior Woman. I thought I looked quite stunning in my Cantonese opera persona and even took a photo of myself.



Although I thought I looked quite powerful and exotic in my costume I found out several things about Chinese opera singers during the workshop that would make me think twice about becoming one. Cantonese operas are between four and five hours long. Actors must memorize thousands of lines. Opera costumes weigh many pounds and female actresses wear narrow toed, high-heeled shoes. Most performances are held outside in the humid heat. Although it was fun to learn more about Cantonese opera and even see how I would look as a Chinese opera singer, I don't think I'd like to be one.