• RTD

This is China 27 October 2017 3 308

The Beijing Opera: Reality and Eternity. The deep symbolism hidden on the Chinese stage

Peking opera is a traditional type of Chinese theatre that has little in common with classical European opera. The voices and singing styles admired by fans of classical European opera differ drastically from those that Peking opera audiences come to hear. The music in Peking opera is not production-specific, and there is a variety of universal traditional scores that can suit any story. Approaches to costume and makeup are also very different, as they are designed to portray the four types of characters depicted in Peking opera.

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Peking opera emerged between the late 18th and early 19th centuries, having evolved from street theatre. Based on true stories and historical Chinese events, performances serve to educate the audience about the country’s history and traditions by incorporating acrobatics, dance, and combat skills. Today, its adherents zealously preserve Peking opera’s original traditions, so performances look much like they did 200 years ago. This theatrical art enjoys a large fan base in China, where there are many competitions and events for amateur singers practicing the style. As for international audiences, Peking opera received worldwide recognition in the mid-20th century thanks to one of its most famous artists, Mei Lanfang.

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RTD visits China’s capital, Beijing, where the opera was born, and nearby Tianjin, home to China’s first Opera Museum, to learn more about this original type of theatre and its traditions. We discover what various makeup colours signify, learn about Peking opera’s four main types of characters, and find out why performers are the most crucial component in this art form.

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