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A night at the Opera — Chinese style

November 20, 2009

Opera, a word that makes you want to sing in the shower, or stuff earplugs in while someone else does. You either love it or hate it.

I grew up with my mother’s love for Puccini and Bizet, and my grandmother’s penchant for all things civilised. Needless to say their love for opera didn’t rub off on me, I was a Sex Pistols fan. I’m sure my mother and her mother both wanted to trade me in for a better model at that time.

Things changed when I visited China for the first time in 2004. Chinese Opera was a music world unknown to me so I spontaneously booked a night at a famous teahouse in the Sichuan province’s capital, Chengdu. My ambling journey into Chinese Opera began.

I’ve made a promise to myself to see at least one performance when I return to China, either at a hotel where the professionals perform to packed houses of tourists (Li Yuan Theatre in Qianmen Hotel), or teahouses (Shu Feng Ya Yun Teahouse).

Whether it’s the artists, their costumes or songs and acrobats, something captivates me. Like a kid watching animation for the first time.

by Cate

Unlike European Opera, the stage is sparse — focusing on the performers.

by Cate

Like most classic forms of art, opera’s popularity has slumped. I guess it’s not cool enough these days. But who cares about being cool, I enjoy the performance even if I have absolutely no idea what they’re singing about.

Sichuan Opera is a little different in style — more acrobatic and faster. Both operas have wonderful costuming, make-up and masks taking you back into a time of Emperors, concubines and arranged marriages.

by Cate

If you have never heard this type of opera before, I’ve included a small clip to start you off.  Just make sure to adjust your volume down, till you’re comfortable with the pitch.)

 White Snake(Bai She Zhuan): A popular fairy tale, White Snake–fairy Bai Suzhen–who has practised Buddhism for thousands of years and can metamorphose into a beautiful woman, wants to taste the love of a human being. She falls in love with Xu Xian at the Broken Bridge on West Lake and wants to marry him. Fa Hai, a monk at Gold Mountain Temple, prevents the fairy snake from marrying him by using his magic power to subdue her and put her under the Lei Feng Pagoda.

For more Photo Friday stories check out the bloggers @ Delicious Baby

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. November 20, 2009 2:16 pm

    Those are amazing photos! And thanks for including the clip…I’ve never heard anything like that before.

    How large is the audience? From the pictures, it looks like the performances might be more intimate than you usually find with European opera.

  2. Shannon permalink
    November 20, 2009 2:17 pm

    amazing masks – love the mask. It’s definitely something entirely different. How long are the performances? Same as the European opera?

  3. November 20, 2009 2:34 pm

    Great visuals. Can’t say I really enjoy the audio on that clip…but I guess that’s the point of your opening sentence!

  4. Bear permalink
    November 20, 2009 4:51 pm

    Hello. As for me I love the theater of it all but the high pitch isn’t enjoyable to my ears. But, then, I am a heathen.

  5. November 20, 2009 6:38 pm

    Sarah and Shannon – the performance I saw are about an hour to and hour and a half. Much shorter than European operas. It doesn’t look as formal either since a lot of them are done in teahouses. Some places seat 800 and others seat 80.

    Abi and Bear – it takes a while to adjust your ear. I don’t think I’ve managed to do this yet, but the colours and acrobatics are captivating. Opera is such a big thing that older fans go to parks and practice. If you walk around some of the main parks in Beijing you will come across amateurs practicing.

  6. November 21, 2009 12:44 pm

    I’ve never seen a performance of Chinese opera, but I would be curious to– I wonder if I can find one in Taipei?

    However, when we were living in Bangkok, a travelling Chinese opera troupe set up stage in an empty lot near our apartment, and every night as we made dinner, we would be serenaded by the distant music. It got to the point that we could practically sing the songs to ourselves (though sadly, we didn’t understand any of the lyrics). -X

  7. November 21, 2009 8:23 pm

    I’m more of a “earplug” type when it comes to opera (except for the more popular styles like Andrea Bocelli) but I would LOVE to attend one in China.

  8. November 22, 2009 12:35 pm

    X – lol, it’s catchy even if your unwilling. I’m pretty sure there will be one in Taiwan, there was a small group in Singapore doing karaoke opera and performances .

    Wanderluster – Being in the country makes the experience more tolerable and enjoyable. I could never listen to the music on a CD or watch it on TV, but attend a live performance and I’m there.

  9. Catherine permalink
    November 22, 2009 8:42 pm

    and what wonderful peformers they are – that first photo is wonderful and yes it does look animated…

  10. November 23, 2009 2:28 am

    I’m not usually one to click on the videos as I’m scrolling through blogs, but I couldn’t resist yours because the photos and text teed it up perfectly. I sat & watched, captivated. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  11. November 23, 2009 10:14 am

    Catherine – Thanks!!!!

    Lorraine – You’re welcome. Even though there’s alot of hype about including videos in blogs, I’ve always wondered if people watch them.

  12. November 23, 2009 2:47 pm

    OMG! I love it! whenever I go to China, it´s a must see! 🙂

    • November 24, 2009 11:21 am

      Yes Adriana add this to your list.

      Tip for everyone – you don’t need to go through a tour office, just ask the staff at the hotel and hopdefully they can help you or google. it. If you go through a tour office you pay a ridiculous price.

  13. November 26, 2009 1:24 pm

    I’m more of the “earplug” school myself 😆 I remember taking my mother to see “Madame Butterfly” quite a few Mother’s Days ago. I literally nearly feel asleep! My comment at the time was that I didn’t see the appeal of Americans, dressed as Japanese, and singing in Italian about someone who wilted away after a man left her.

    OK, I’m thinking I wouldn’t fall asleep during this performance 🙂

  14. Bert permalink
    February 10, 2010 3:56 pm

    The singer is Zhang Huoding (张火丁), a Plum Blossom prize winner and foremost performer of the Cheng school.

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