General Introduction of Beijing Opera
Beijing Opera, also called “Eastern Opera”, is a principle tradition in the Chinese culture. It is called Beijing Opera because it is formed in Beijing.
Beijing Opera has a history of 200 years in which its fountainhead can be dated back to old local operas, especially Anhui Opera, which was very popular in southern China in the 18th century. In 1790, the first Anhui Opera performance was held in Beijing to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday. Later, some other Anhui Opera troupes went on to perform in Beijing. Anhui Opera troupes liked to have performance tours and therefore were able to absorb lists of plays and performance styles of other operas. Beijing has gathered many local operas, and this allowed Anhui Opera to improve
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, after ten years of merging, Beijing Opera finally formed itself and became the biggest of all operas in China.
Beijing Opera has a rich list of plays, artists, troupes, audiences, and wide influences, and for these reasons it is the foremost opera in China.
Beijing Opera is a comprehensive acting art. It blends singing, reading, acting, fighting and dancing together by using methods of acting to narrate stories and depict characters. The roles in Beijing Opera include the male, female, painted-face, and comedic roles. Besides, there are other supporting roles as well.
Facial make-up is the most distinctive art in Beijing Opera. Loyalty and duplicity, beauty and ugliness, benevolence and evilness, and superiority and inferiority can all be expressed through facial make-ups. For example, red color shows loyalty; purple symbolizes wisdom, courage and bravery; black symbolizes loyalty and integrity; white is a metaphor of duplicity and malevolence; blue means unyieldingness and bravery; yellow shows brutality; and golden and silver colors are mainly used on deity, Buddhist, and ghost-like figures, to show a sense of unreality through the gold face and body.
It is widely acknowledged that the end of the 18th century was the most flourishing period in the development of Beijing Opera. During this time, there were many performances not only in theaters, but also in the imperial palace. The noble class loved Beijing Opera; the superior elements in the palace played a positive role in the performances, make-up, and stage setting. The mutual influence between imperial and folk dramas promoted the unprecedented development of Beijing Opera.
The years between 1920s and the 1940s of last century were the second flourishing period of Beijing Opera. The symbol of this period was the emergence of many sects of the opera. The four most famous ones were “Mei” (Mei Lanfang 1894—1961), “Shang” (Shang Xiaoyun 1900—1975), “Cheng” (Cheng Yanqiu 1904—1958), and “Xun” (Xun Huisheng 1900—1968). Every sect had its groups of actors and actresses. Furthermore, they were extremely active on the stage in Beijing and Shanghai. The art of Beijing Opera was very popular at that time.
Mei Lanfang was one of the most prominent Beijing Opera artists in the international world. He studied opera when he was eight, and began to perform on the stage when he was eleven. In his more than 50 years of performing, Mei created and developed many acting phases, such as singing, reading, dancing, music, costumes, and make-up, all of which helped him form his own style. In 1919, Mei led the opera troupe to Japan, which was the first time that China introduced the art of Beijing opera overseas. In 1930, Mei Lanfang led a troupe to the United States and gained great success and significant recognition. In 1934, he was invited to visit Europe, and was given much attention by the European opera world. Later, other places in the world considered Beijing Opera as the performing school of China.
Since China implemented its reform and opening-up policy, Beijing Opera had new development. As a traditional quintessence of China, Beijing Opera has obtained great support from the government. Today, the Beijing Chang’an Opera House holds international competitions every year and attracts many people from various countries. Beijing Opera is also the reserved program for occasions of foreign exchange between Chinese and many foreign cultures.