Chinese Opera

Chinese opera is mainly composed of three different kinds of artistic form, including the folk songs and dances, the talking and singing, and the farce. Originated in the primitive song and dance, the Chinese opera is a time-honored comprehensive stage art style. Synthetically consisted of literature, music, painting, martial arts, acrobatics and performance art, the Chinese opera contains about more than 360 varieties. The feature of Chinese opera is combining numerous artistic forms based on the same standard and presenting character respectively within the common character. There are several famous opera types among the Chinese operas, like the Peking Opera, the Kunqu Opera, the Yue Opera(Shanghai), the Yu Opera, the Yue Opera(Guangdong), the Sichuan Opera, the Shanxi Opera, the Jin Opera, the Han Opera, the Hebei Bangzi, the Hunan Opera and the Huangmei Opera.

The Periods of Development 

In the primitive society, the original songs and dances were formed in the clan villages. With the expandability of the clan, the songs and dances developed and improved gradually. In many old rural, some traditional dances with a long history are still kept. At the same time, some new songs and dances, like the Fire and the Yangko, were born in the mental need of people. These songs and dances brought up batch after batch of folk artisans and approached to the direction of opera little by little.

The opera of Yuan Dynasty and the opera of Jin Dynasty, which reflected the life and standpoint of citizen attached with professional art and commerciality, were born from the middle of 12 century to the early 13 century. This was the stage that the opera entered a boom period. In the middle of 16 century, the Kun Qiang and the Huai Opera sprang up in the regions south of the Yangtze River. The Kun Qiang met the great favor of feudal upper class at that time.

The works in late Ming and early Qing were mainly about the heroes in people`s heart. The famous local opera at that time were the Bangzi in the north and the Pihuang in the south. The Peking Opera was produced based on the high prosperity of local opera in the Qing Dynasty. It rapidly spread over the whole country and became an opera type with a broad impact. The Peking Opera advanced the Chinese opera to a new level.

The Golden Age

The opera of Yuan Dynasty was called “Yuanzaju”. It regarded as the mainstream of literature, for its mature senior opera form as well as its times characteristic and art originality. Yuanzaju was popular in the north. The center of it was Dadu (Beijing). After the extinction of the Southern Song Dynasty, the opera of Yuan Dynasty became a nationwide opera. The masterpieces of opera in the Yuan Dynasty were bright stars twinkling above the sky.

The script system of Yuanzaju is consisted of four “Zhe” and one “Xie”. Sizhe is the paragraph which contains of four plots. Generally located in the front of the first Zhe, Xiezi is like today`s prologue. The extent of Xiezi is small and short. Yuanzaju combine with singing and speaking. The integration of music structures and opera structure indicates that the Yuanzaju has reached the mellow and marinate stage.

Used to call “Ming Qing Legend”, the legend style of opera has continued to the Qing Dynasty. Composed of the first part and the second part, a script of Ming Qing Legend lasts about 30 minutes. The Zhezi Opera became a popular fashion at the stage of late Ming Dynasty. The so-called Zhezi opera, select some plays from the whole plays of the Legend. The appearance of Zhezi opera is the result of the flourishing opera performance at that time.

The major features

Chinese opera, Greek tragedy and comedy, India Sanskritdrama are considered as the three major ancient opera in the world. The opera is a comprehensive art, which combines the time art and the space art together. The common characteristic of opera around the world is comprehensiveness, and the comprehensiveness of Chinese opera is especially strong.

The Chinese opera is a form that centers the comprehensive performance of singing, reading, doing and playing. The rich performance means and the comprehensiveness of performance and art make the Chinese opera full of charming and fascination. It mixes lyrics, music, art, and the beauty of the performance with rhythm within a whole play to achieve harmony and integration.

The most important part of Chinese opera is virtuality. The stage craft not simply focus on life imitation, but the selection, refinement, exaggeration and beautification in primary form of life.

Another artistic characteristic of Chinese opera is its formula. The plot, such as door closing, horse mounting and shipping, all have a set of fixed formula. The opera art is properly called the regular free action, for its formula is normative as well as flexible in the play.

Comprehensiveness, virtuality and formula are the major features of Chinese opera. These features, which agglomerate the mental marrow of Chinese traditional culture, make the Chinese opera become a unique performance form and flicker its artistic splendor on the opera culture stage of the world.

More about Chinese Opera

  • Yu Opera(Henan)
  • Yue Opera(Guangdong)
  • Yue Opera(Shanghai)
  • Huangmei Opera