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Art form widens its reach, sends cultural message

By XING WEN,WANG RU and ZHU LIXIN in Anqing, Anhui | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-11-27 08:09
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Performers appear on stage at Zaifen Huangmei Opera Theatre in Anqing, Anhui province. ZHU LIXIN/CHINA DAILY

An outdoor stage made from cement stands in a village in Huaining, Anhui province.

On this single rostrum, a man and a woman, their voices resonating with pure, melodious beauty, perform a classic Huangmei Opera work, Tian Xian Pei, which translates as A Goddess' Marriage. The work depicts a folk tale centered on the love story between a goddess and a man, while its lyrics portray a typical scene in daily life.

The lyrics include:

You plow the fields, and I weave the cloth. I fetch water, and you water the garden. Even though the modest home may be in disrepair, it can still offer protection from the wind and rain. As long as there's love between husband and wife, life feels sweet even in hardship.

Villagers bring small wooden stools from their homes to an open space in front of the stage, creating an impromptu audience area. Some decide to perch on their bicycles or tricycles scattered around the stage, while a few enjoy warm bowls of porridge, sipping thoughtfully as they become engrossed in the plot unfolding onstage.

Children, brimming with curiosity and wonder, playfully climb on and off the stage.

After each show, performers often receive gifts from the villagers, including fruit such as peaches and plums, which have been picked from the residents' trees.

This scene of villagers immersing themselves in a Huangmei Opera performance is a notable departure from the formal and solemn ambiance of traditional opera theaters. It also aptly reflects the essence of this art form, which is firmly grounded in the daily lives of ordinary people, and reflects their emotions and life stories.

Such scenes are frequent occurrences throughout Huaining, Anqing city, where Huangmei Opera, also known as caichaxi (tea-picking opera), originated and became popular during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The county boasts a State-owned Huangmei Opera troupe and more than 20 community-based theater groups. Each year, the local government coordinates several of these groups to stage Huangmei Opera performances in villages and local communities. From April to October, more than 200 such performances are staged, each lasting at least 100 minutes.

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