It’s not everybody’s cup of Chinese tea, but I happen to like Peking Opera.
In the 1980 and 90s when I made frequent visits to Beijing (Peking), I was often able to fit in a ‘night at the opera’.
Peking Opera is recognized as China’s national opera. It’s a performance art incorporating singing, reciting, acting and martial arts. It arose in the late 18th century and was fully developed by the mid-19th century.
Although widely practised throughout China, its performance centers on Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai. The art form is also preserved in Taiwan, where it is known as ‘Guoju’. It has also become popular in many other countries including the United States and Japan.
Alas, it does not have much of a following the Philippines. I once suggested to a member of the local Chinese community that we stage a Peking Opera to raise funds for the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation. He said I shouldn’t bother as he doubted anyone would show up. A pity.
Peking Opera features four main types of performers. Performing troupes often have several of each variety, as well as numerous secondary and tertiary performers. With their elaborate and colorful costumes, performers are the only focal points on Peking opera’s characteristically sparse stage.
Peking opera is sung and recited using primarily the Beijing dialect, and its librettos are composed according to a strict set of rules. The operas tell stories of history, politics, society and daily life and aspire to inform as they entertain.
The music of Peking opera plays a key role in setting the pace of the show, creating a particular atmosphere, shaping the characters and guiding the progress of the stories.
Costumes are flamboyant and the exaggerated facial make-up uses concise symbols, colours and patterns to portray characters’ personalities and social identities.
Performers us their skills of speech, song, dance and combat in movements that are symbolic and suggestive, rather than realistic. Above all else, the skill of performers is evaluated according to the beauty of their movements.
Peking opera was denounced as ‘feudalistic’ and ‘bourgeois’ during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and replaced by revolutionary opera. But after the Cultural Revolution, performances started again.
While still popular among the older generation, Peking Opera is struggling to attract younger audiences though it is attempting to widen its appeal by improving performance quality, adapting new performance elements and performing new and original plays.
With many Filipinos going to China on holiday these days I thoroughly recommend a trip to the local opera house if they get the chance. It’s quite a spectacle.