Peking Opera

What is it?
The Peking Opera or Beijing Opera is a combination of music, vocal performance, dance, some mime, and acrobatics. This type of opera contains many stories of tragedy, comedy, or anything in between. What is unique about the Peking opera compared to other operas around the world, is that it involves centuries worth of history, amazing stories, a unique sound, and a very symbolic way of costumes and masks. There is not just one form of the Peking opera; but there are operas that involve, acrobatics, some with singing, and some with mainly acting.

In 1790 when the "Four Great Anhui Troupes"(acting troupes that focused on a more opera-type style) came to Beijing. It did not however begin in Beijing. It's true origins are Anhui and Hubei, Chinese provinces. It was originally preformed only for nobles and royalty. During the Qing dynasty it became extremely popular and more open to the public. Today it is considered to be one of China's Cultural Treasures.

Sheng is one of the four main characters in all performances, there are many different types of Sheng.
Laosheng- an older role, simple costumes that are sensible and have red painted faces. A type of Laosheng is Hongsheng. The Hongsheng is only ever two characters, Guan Gong who is the God of war and Zhao Kuang-yin who was the first emperor of the Song Dynasty. There are normally two Laosheng in a troupe.
Xiaosheng is a younger male role that uses a high voice with breaks in it to show changes in youth. Their costumes very depending on their social status.
Wusheng are combat characters that use martial arts and sing in a natural voice. They have to be very good at acrobatics.
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Dan is usually the female in the play.
Zhengdan is usually a a gentle and refined middle-aged woman. Most of her lines are in song, and even her speaking parts have a rhythmic feel to them. Zhengdan always wears a blue dress. She is also called Qinqyi (Blue Clothes).
Huadan is a maiden that is beautiful with an outgoing character. She usually has a frank, open, and sometimes questionable personality.
Wudan are the female characters skilled in martial arts. Wudan can be split into two characters. Daomadan is usually skilled with the spears, pikes, and horse riding. Wudan wears a shorter skirt and does the acrobatics. Wudan portrays the gods and ghosts, and has excellent fighting skills.
Laodan represents the aged woman. She usually sings in milder and more normal voice.
Caidan (or Choudan) represents the clownish and cunning females.

Jing is usually the men with the roles that involve painted faces.
Zheng Jing are men of high social standing and good behavior, usually court ministers. These characters sing in sturdy and powerful tones
Fu Jing usually represents rascally ministers, recognized by their white faces. They have bold body movements and powerful voices.
Wu Jing is more physical than the others, and does not have much singing or reciting.
Mao Jing is the clown in the play. They usually have a trick like spouting water from their mouth.

Chou is the clown role that has the "Petty-Painted Face" mask. This character requires talent in the martial arts and/or acrobatics. And they have to deliver their lines clearly and fluently. Their movements should be light and powerful.

The Peking opera doesn't use allot of props so they make up for it by the use of elaborate consumes. The costumes they wear describe who they are. Colors play a big part of distinguishing who is who. Yellow is for royalty, high ranking officers wear purple, these people wear a mang(python robe) and they use more elaborate patterns and brighter colors than others. People of a high rank or that are full of virtue weared. Lower ranking officers wear blue. Younger characters wear white. The old wear white, brown, or olive. All other men mostly wear black. Those are the basic character colors. All others beside royalty and the higher ranking officers wear the Chezi(a simple gown with varying types of embroidery). Lower ranking officers, during special occasions, also can wear kuan yi(also simple, with patches on either side). Shoes depend on the rank of the performer. An acrobat and lower ranking characters wear flat shoes while royalty and those who are high ranking wear shoes soled shoes. Hats normally match the costumes.

Masks play a very significant role in helping distinguish the different characters' personalities, emotions, and intentions in the play. In ancient China there was a form of dancing called "nuo", which was a ceremony of dance used to frighten off evil souls and ghost and to heal people of epidemics. In the nuo the dancers used fierce looking masks. In some places the nuo was later transformed into theatrical performances.
Another legend is that between 550 and 577 A.D. Prince Lanling brought these masks about. Legend has it that Prince Lanling excelled in martial arts, but was to handsome to frighten the enemy. So Lanling covered his face with a scary and fierce looking mask to go into battle looking ferocious. Throughout the centuries these masks started to progress, starting from basic face make up with the partial look of Lanling's masks, to very advanced looking masks that gave the portrayal of super-human beings.
The colors used in the masks have an immense amount of symbolism, showing the persons character, amount of importance, and such in the play.
Red - This color symbolizes devotion, courage, bravery, uprightness and loyalty.
Black - Symbolizes roughness and fierceness. A character wearing a black mask can either be a rough and bold part in the play, or be a selfless and neutral character.
Yellow - Fierceness, ambition and cool-headedness
Purple - This color stands for uprightness, sophistication, and cool-headedness. An actor with a reddish-purple face shows a just and noble character most of the time.
Blue - Staunchness, fierceness, and astuteness.
White - Usually represents sinisterness, treacherousness, suspiciousness, and craftiness. The character with this colored mask on would be the main villain in the play.
Green - Impulsive and violent. This character is usually stubborn and has a lack of self-restraint.
Petty-Painted Face - This type of mask is also called the "xiaohualian". For this mask the actor paints white chalk on and around his nose. This character is the clown in the play. The xiaohualian symbolizes a mean or secretive character, or it sometimes represents a witty and humorous character.

The Peking opera consists of string instruments, and very unique singing. The singing is usually high pitched and has a nasal sound to it.

Learning of..
The main form of training is through boarding schools. Peking opera boarding schools teach martial arts, acrobatics, tumbling, music and dance. Most students train for seven to ten years. After strict and constant training and mostly harsh living conditions, they can repay the teacher for they're stay and education through what they earn for perfomances. These boarding schools aren't normally huge estates. Normally a teacher would take in a few pupils at a time to teach them.

Theaters - There are modern theaters as well as restored that are used for housing the Beijing opera. They are located in many places but mostly prominent cities.
Where it is today-While it spread mostly to nearby cities of Mainland China is also preformed around the world
Stages - Most stages are square and audiences can see from three sides. Most of the time the audiences sit on south of the stage, so the actors face north.
Make up - make up is an important addition to the costume and mask. Make up is used to give a face that makes a character seem to have the same disposition/emotion throughout the performance.

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