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Chinese Operas

Chinese opera or Xiqu in Chinese is a popular form of drama and musical theatre in China with roots going back as far as the third century CE. There are numerous regional branches of Chinese opera, of which the Beijing opera (Jingju) is one of the most notable. Top five Chinese Operas as bellow:

Peking Opera
Known for its colorful costumes and fanciful face paint, Beijing Opera is one of China’s most famous performance arts. Originating during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Beijing Opera combined opera styles from around China and was extremely popular in the Qing court. It combines singing, music, dance, acrobatics, and martial arts. Performer’s movements are suggestive, as opposed to realistic. This, combined with the singing, requires at least a small amount of familiarity with Beijing Opera to get the most out of the performance.

The exact date of Beijing Opera's birth is known. In 1790, a group Anhui opera performers came to Beijing to perform for the Qianlong Emperor’s birthday in 1790. The origins of Beijing Opera come from China’s Anhui and Hubei Provinces. The opera evolved and by 1845, Beijing Opera is believed to have been fully formed.

Beijing Opera was originally only performed by men who performed both male and female roles. During the 1870’s, some female performers began performing Beijing opera and their performances were considered to be equal of that of their male counterparts. In 1894, the first female acrobatic troupe performed. Even though men or women are considered equal when it comes to Beijing Opera, men who can successful perform the female roles are held in extremely high regard and are very popular with opera enthusiasts.

There are four main roles in Beijing Opera; Sheng, Dan, Jing, Chou. Each role has subtypes which follow a set character types which are not changed.

The main male role in Beijing Opera, the Sheng is displayed as gentle and cultivated and wear costumes that are more reserved. The Sheng do not have the stylistic face painting that Beijing Opera is famous for. There are several subtypes of the Sheng Role. The Laosheng is a dignified older character. The Xiaosheng is a young male character and the actor’s playing this part sing in a high pitch voice with occasional breaks to signify the voice changing of adolescence. A Wusheng is a military character and the actors playing this role have to be extremely talented in acrobatics and martial arts.

The female roles in Beijing Opera are the Dan and there are several subtypes of the Dan Role. The Laodan are the older women. Military women are Wudan, and the young female warriors are the Daomadan Role. The Qingyi Roles are women who are virtuous, and the unmarried women are called Huadan. The sixth subtype of Dan, the Huashan, was invented by Mei Lanfeng, one of the most famous men to play the role or Dan in history. The Huashan combined the poise and status of the Qingyi, with the vivaciousness of the Huadan.

A painted face male role, the face paint of the Jing Roles is known throughout the world. The Jing is either a primary or secondary role with a very strong character. The voice and gestures of the Jing Role are exaggerated. The character’s facial makeup is broken down in 15 basic patterns, but there are over 1,000 specific variations for particular roles. There are three basic subtypes of the Jing Role. The Tongchui subtype involves a great deal of singing. The Jiazi subtype places less emphasis on singing and more on their physical performance, and the Wujing subtype utilizes a lot of martial arts and acrobatics.

A very unique role in Beijing Opera is the Chou. The Chou is a male clown. They are generally secondary characters and are known for their comedic acting and acrobatics. Different from the Western version of a clown, the Chou Role’s character is amusing and likeable, but generally not goofy. The Chou Roles can be divided into two types; civilian, and military. The civilian roles are generally merchants or jailers and the military roles are generally minor roles. The role of Chou is one of the most demanding because of its combination of acrobatics and comic timing. The costumes of the Chou Role cover a very large range from simple for characters of low status, to overly elaborate for higher ranking characters. The face paint of the Chou Role always consists of a white patch on and around the nose.
Movement and gestures:
The gestures of the actors onstage in Beijing Opera are very stylized with emphasized meanings. The gestures must be perfectly performed and it is the aim of every performer to put beauty and grace into every movement. Great attention is paid to each movement and each movement has a long history and symbolizes a particular action to the audience. Every motion is carefully conducted to avoid sharp angles or straight lines. A character gesturing to the right will not simply move their arm to the right, but will do so in a sweeping curve. Even eye movement is carefully controlled to avoid straight lines.
Costumes and Props:

Costumes in Beijing Opera are extremely important. They are known for their beautiful color and embroidery and each costumes main function is to distinguish the character rank and type. Color is just as important as a costume’s style and design. Emperors and the imperial family wear yellow robes. High ranking civil officials wear purple robes. Red is worn by people of high rank and virtue, while lower ranking characters wear blue. The elderly wear white, brown, and dark green and young characters wear white. Most costumes feature long flowing sleeves which can be moved and waved like water, giving them their name “water sleeves”. Secondary characters wear clothing that has no embroidery. Hats and shoes are designed to match the clothing and blend in. Shoes have either low or high soles. High soled shoes are worn by characters of high rank and low soled shoes are worn by those of low rank, or for characters who perform a lot of acrobatics. One reason costumes are so important in Beijing Opera is that very few, if any props or sets are used. Most items are indicated by conversation and not by props. A mansion or palace can be displayed by a table and a few chairs. Everything else is created in by the audience’s imagination. Many times a handheld prop is used to symbolize a larger object. A whip can represent a horse, or an oar can represent a boat.

Beijing Opera has almost 1,400 plays in its repertoire. Most of them come from historical novels, legends, or traditional stories. Although most Beijing Opera works come from ancient sources, a number of contemporary works have been written. They are experimental and incorporate many Western influences. Shakespeare, for example have been adapted to encompass Beijing Opera.

Huangmeixi Opera
Huangmeixi opera/tone or tea-leaf picking opera originated as a form of rural folksong and dance that has been in existence for the last 200 years and possibly longer. The music is performed with a pitch that hits high and stays high for the duration of the song. It is unique in the sense that it does not sound like the typical rhythmic Chinese opera. In the 1960s Hong Kong counted the style as much as an opera as it was a music genre. Today it is more of a traditional performance art with efforts of revival in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Huangmei Government at Hubei province was officially considered as the place of origin of Huangmei opera.

Yuju Opera
Yu opera, formerly known as Henan bangzi, is one of China's famous national opera forms, alongside Peking opera and Pingju opera. Henan Province is the origin of Yu opera. Henan's one-character abbreviation is Yu, and thus the opera style was officially named Yuju after the founding of the People's Republic of China. The area where Yu opera is most commonly performed is in the region surrounding the Yellow River and Huai River. According to statistical figures, Yu opera was the leading opera genre in terms of the number of performers and troupes. Outside of Henan, provinces such as Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hebei, Beijing, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Taiwan all have professional Yu opera troupes.

Yueju opera
Yueju opera or Shaoxing opera is a form of Chinese opera founded around 1906 in Shengzhou, Zhejiang province. Over time, it grew in popularity, now being the most popular form of Chinese opera after the Peking opera. It is highly popular in Zhejiang, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Fujian, while its audiences are all over China.

Originated from the folks and ballad singing of rural area in Zhejiang, by drawing the experience of other developed Chinese opera forms such as Peking opera and Kunqu, Yueju Opera became popular in Shanghai in early 1930s. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Yueju performers in Shanghai launched a movement to reform the Yueju performance, including learning from Western cultures, which made Yueju opera remarkably different from other forms of Chinese opera. After the foundation of People's Republic of China, Yueju opera was welcomed by the government and Communist Party of China at first, and reached a pinnacle popularity in late 1950s and early 1960s. However, during the Cultural Revolution, like other traditional Chinese art forms, Yueju performances were outlawed, which caused a serious setback in its development. Since the 1980s, Yueju became popular again, while being challenged by new amusement forms.
Yueju opera features are elegant and soft, which made it suitable for telling love stories. It was initially performed by men only, but female groups started performing in the style in 1923, and during the 1930s, the form became female-only.

Pingju opera is a form of local Chinese opera from northern China. It originated in Tangshan, Hebei, near the city of Tianjin. Pingju is one kind of Chinese traditional operas with a long history and a far-ranging mass foundation. Initiated in 2000, the festival is held annually in Tangshan of Hebei Province, the birthplace of Pingju.
China Pingju Festival is sponsored by Art Department of the Ministry of Culture, the Hebei Provincial Art Department and Tangshan municipal government. The Festival aims at carrying forward the Pingju art and continuously extending its influence at home and abroad. During the festival, activities include the appraisal and performance of excellent plays, academic seminar, competition among Pingju fans, and exhibition week of Pingju films. The festival's organizing committee attaches importance to the characteristics of the era and the mass participation. Moreover, it has increased economic activities since the third festival. China Pingju Festival has made great contribution to the artistic exchange and development of Pingju. The Fourth China Pingju Festival was held in Tangshan in September 2003 and has been changed into a biennial festival from then on.

More Varieties in China
Cantonese Opera
A Cantonese opera song by two female singers Bak Sheut Sin and Yam Kim Fai. Yam Kim Fai is actually using her trademark indistinguishable male voice behind the opera disguise. Only traditional Chinese instruments are used.

Northern China
Errenzhuan/Bangzixi/Benbeng opera  
Hebei bangzi  
Qinqiang/Qin dynasty opera (Shaanxi)
Jinju (shanxi)

Southern China
Cantonese opera (Guangdong)
Gaojia opera (Quanzhou)
Huaguxi (Hubei/Hunan)
Huju (Shanghai)
Kunqu opera
Liyuan opera
Teochew opera
Min opera (Fuzhou)
Shaoxing opera/Yueju (Zhejiang)
Taiwanese opera
Wuju (Jinhua)

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