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Beijing Opera

Beijing Opera

Beijing Opera is the most popular and influential opera in China with a history of almost 200 years. In the course of its formation, it assimilated the best from many other local operas and was affected by Beijing local dialet and customs. Though Beijing Opera originated from Beijing, it is not localized exclusive to Beijing only. Beijing opera troupes can be found in most regions of China.

Beijing Opera combines singing, reciting, acting and acrobatic fighting.
  • Singing refers to the sing according to certain tunes.
  • Reciting refers to monologues by performers and dialogues between performers.
  • Acting refers to body movements and facial expression.
  • Acrobatic fighting refers to choreographed martial art.

In the long term of development, Beijing Opera has formed a number of fictitious props. For instance, a pedal means a boat, a whip in the hand means riding on the horse. Without any physical props involved, an actor may perform going upstairs or downstairs, opening or closing a door by mere gestures. Though rather exaggerated, those actions would, with their graceful movements, give audience a deep impression.

There are four main roles in Beijing Opera: sheng, dan, jing and chou.
  • Sheng are the leading male actors, and are divided into laosheng who wear beards and represent old man, xiaosheng who represent young man, and wusheng who are acrobats playing military soilder and fighters. These roles usually wears no facial paintings. Famouse actors playing this type of role include Ma Lianliang, Zhou Xinfang, Ye Shenglan, Gai Jiaotian and Li Shaochun.
  • Dan are female roles. Formerly, the term meant female impersonators. It is further divided into several categories. The most important category, qingyi, usually play respectable and decent ladies in elegant costumes. Huadan represent lively and clever young girl, usually in short costumes. Wudan usually play military or non-military women capable of martial arts. Laodan are the old lady. Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Shang Xiaoyun and Xun Huisheng were the celebrated Four Major Dan Roles in 1920s.
  • Jing, mostly male, are the face-painted roles who represent warriors, heroes, statesmen, adventures and damons. Famous actors playing this role include Qiu Shengrong and Yuan Shihai.
  • Chou, most of time, play roles of wit, alert and humor. It is these roles who keep the audience laughing and improvise quips at the right moments to ease ension in some serious plays. Renowned actors playing this role include Xiao Changhua and Ma Fulu.

Facial makeup in Beijing Opera has its own pattern. A sheng or a dan has to have eysbrows painted in a way that they look slanted with the outer ends of eyebrows going upward, and their eyes circled with black color. As for a jing and chou, the pattern is in accordance with the disposition of the characters according to the rule of facial makeup in Beijing Opera. For example, a red face usually depicts the roles loyalty and bravery; while a white face symbolizes a sinister roles treachery and guile.

It is said that the complete Beijing Opera repertoire includes more than 3,800 plays. What are staged today are primarily three types, namely, traditonal Beijing Operas, newly composed historical and modern opera.

Beijing Opera, as the national opera, enjoys a high reputation both inside and outside Country. Many foreigners have come to China to learn Beijing Opera, while many Beijing opera troupes and famous opera actors and actress have frequently been invited to perform abroad and have been highly appreciated by foreign audience.

Reference data

Facial makeup refers to the various designs of lines and colored patches painted on the faces of certain opera characters. They follow traditionally fixed patterns for specific types to highlight the disposition and quality in the personages so that the audience may immediately know whether they are heroes or villains, whether they are kind or treacherous and wicked.
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