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My first experiences with Peking Opera

By Huebie ( Updated: 2014-08-05 17:48

We have been to a Peking Opera performance. Paul had been enjoying it whenever he caught it on local TV and was eager to see a whole show. I wasn’t, but I was curious, so a friend bought tickets to one of the simpler stories.

The brightly decorated concert hall was squeezed inside an otherwise ordinary building. Decorations included plentiful wood trim, heavy velvet curtains, straight-backed upholstered chairs and wooden coffee tables.  The audience enjoyed tea and chatted throughout the opera. The set in Peking opera is usually sparse, with a few curtains and cardboard furniture draped with brightly colored brocade; however, no expense is spared on costumes and make-up.

Female characters wear a type of sleeve I’ve seen in large-scale entertainment programs such as the Olympics: from the edge of the sleeve hangs a three foot wide strip of white fabric which is waved in fancy gestures similar to a fan dance. When the character is standing at rest, the fabric is carefully pulled up to make a flat surface out of the arms.

Arm and hand movements are delicate and part of what distinguishes a truly fine performer, as well as the voice, of course. The woman playing the daughter-looking-for-a-husband received enthusiastic applause, but the singers were so heavily miked-up I couldn’t get excited about her sound.

Singers are accompanied by musicians playing traditional instruments seated at the side of the stage and a tape of percussion instruments. The audience seemed familiar enough with the lyrics/story that they interrupted the singing with frequent applause and called out something like “bravo!” at the end.

If you want art to help you understand reality, then Peking opera is not for you. It never has faced reality, it has always been a heavily stylized art. It arose in the late 18th century and has come to be regarded as one of the cultural treasures of China. An increasing number of cities throughout the world have begun to establish Peking opera troupes. I’m glad to have seen it once, but season tickets would be wasted on me.

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