Beijing opera or Peking opera (simplified Chinese: 京剧; traditional Chinese: 京剧; pinyin: Jīngjù) is a form of traditional Chinese theatre which is a blend of music, dance, art, acrobatics, and martial arts. With its beautiful paintings, exquisite costumes, and graceful gestures, Peking opera has developed into a comprehensive art system.
Chinese opera together with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera are the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. It arose in the late 18th century and became fully developed and recognized in the mid-19th century. It was extremely popular in the Qing Dynasty (1636-1911) and has come to be regarded as one of the cultural treasures of China. Though named Peking (Beijing) Opera, it originated in the provinces of Anhui and Hubei, instead of Beijing.
The roles and the facial make-up
In Peking opera there is a clear division of roles. In the general, there are four roles: 生(SHENG, the positive male role), 旦(DAN, the positive female role), 净(JING, a supporting male role)- the man with characteristic appearance or features, and丑(CHOU, the clown or a negative character), which are further classified by age and profession. Traditionally, in China, women were forbidden to enter theatres, so all Peking (Beijing) Opera characters were performed by men. Now women enjoy equal rights on stage.
Beijing opera facial makeup is a special feature of a national cosmetic. The facial makeup and custom varied from the roles, allowing audience to figure out its character. In general, the main color used in the facial make-up implicates the character of the role, such as red implicates loyal and brave, black implicates wise and bold, white implicates the wicked and treacherous, blue implicates unyielding but cunning, green implicates rash and powerful, and yellow implicates valiant but irritable.
Amazingly, most of the opera performers are not only perfect at performing but also good at painting themselves up.
The costumes allow the audience to learn the characters at the first sight.
(1) The headdresses, also called Toukui, include crown, helmet, hat and scarf. Crowns are for the emperor and nobles; helmets for military people; straw hats for common folks. Some headgears, such as crowns, are hard, while others are soft.
(2) Costume: There are 20 major kinds of costumes, including the ceremonial robe (Mang,蟒袍) for the emperor and nobles; the informal robe(Pei,帔),; and the armor( Kao,靠)for soldiers, and so on.
The performance skills
The main performing skills of Peking (Beijing) Opera consist of singing(唱), speaking(念), acting(做) and martial arts(打). The operatic dialogues and monologues are compiled in Beijing dialect, and some of the words are pronounced in a special fashion. That is why every Peking Opera performance accompanies with credit roll in Chinese, and English.
What catches the audience’s eyes are the well-established movements, such as smoothing a beard, adjusting a hat, jerking a sleeve, or raising a foot that expressing certain emotions and meaning. Besides, opening a door, rowing a boat, eating, drinking and the like are performed through stylized movements rather than arranging the material objects on the stage.
Classical Beijing Opera Arias
1. Farewell to Concubine (BA WANG BA JI)-by the famous opera performer Mei Yanfang
The kingdoms of Chu and Han were at war. General Xiang Yu of the Chu Kingdom was besieged by the Han army in the Jiuli Mountains. In order to distract Xiang Yu, his concubine Yu Ji sang songs and performed a sword dance to cheer him up.
2. The Beautiful Courtesan (Du Shiniang)- by the famous opera performer Xun Huisheng
The story happened between a beautiful Courtesan named Du Shiniang and a scholar. The scholar met Du Shiniang on his way to the capital for the imperial examinations. They fell deeply into love with each other and got engaged, but a rich merchant, Sun Fu wanted to marry Du Shiniang as well. Then Sun Fu tricked Li Jia into exchanging Du with a large sum of money, which led to the suicide of despairing Du.
3. Zhaojun Come Out The Frontier (ZHAO JUN CHU SAI)- by the famous opera performer Shang Xiaoyun
In the year 54 B.C., the king of the Huna(Xiongnu, an ancient nationality in China) present himself before the Yuan Emperor of the Han Dynasty for reconciliation by marriage, but none of the princess would like to marry the Attila from a remote state. A maid of honor named Wang Zhaojun volunteer to marry the Attila to maintain the peaceful relationships between Han and Huna.
4. The Injustice Done to Tou Ngo (DOU E YUAN) -by the famous opera performer Cheng Yanqiu
A dutiful girl named Dou E from a poor family was sold as a child bride to get money for her father as the fee to the capital for the imperial examinations. Before long, her husband died of a serious illness. A man named Zhang Lv wanted to abduct her as his daughter-in-law by using a threat of poisoning her husband’s mother and accusing her of murder. Dou E declined to follow. Then things happened as Zhang Lv said. Dou E got the Injustice, then it snowed even it was summer then.