Opera is the most admired type of drama in China and has several regional forms. Along with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera, the Chinese Opera is one of the three oldest and greatest dramatic art forms of the world.
Chinese opera was developed from folk songs, dances, and local music. The opera progressively included theatrical art and literature.
Traditional musical instruments like the erhu, the gong, and the lute; great actors, beautiful melodies and notable dialogues with high literary value are present in the Opera of China.
Its origins dates back to the first dynastic periods with Canjun opera, but it was during the Tang dynasty (8th century), when was created the first formal opera troupe called "Pear Garden" for the imperial court enjoyment. Today, operatic performers are still named as "Disciples of the Pear Garden".
In the Yuan dynasty, Zaju opera was very popular. Its acts are based on rhyming schemes with new specialized roles that have been preserved in the time:
Yuan dynasty opera persists until now as Cantonese opera, a form brought to Guangdong from the northern China (especially from Hangzhou where was called Narm hei) during the war-migration in late 13th century. Some of the best Cantonese operas still performed are The Purple Hairpin and Rejuvenation of the Red Plum Flower. A particularly of this opera is the female roles were interpreted by males until the last century.
- Dan: Female role.
- Sheng: Male role.
- Chou: Comedy actor or Clown.
- Jing: Painted Face Male.
Created in the mid-19th century during the Qing dynasty, Beijing Opera is considered a national treasure and the quintessence of Orient.
It was developed combining dramatic opera forms of the adjacent regions, principally from the provinces of Anhui (Xipi melody) and Hubei (Erhuang melody), with the Southern drama brought by the famous Anhui troupes and the local opera.
Since its formation, it has become extremely popular. Originally performed for the imperial court, it came into the public soon later due to its representation of common stories and diverse characters with emphasis in the feelings.
Beijing Opera is a scenic art that integrate music, performance, literature and mime. Its artistic methods include: singing (to intensify the presentation through different vocal tones); dialogue (to complement the songs), dancing (to make it elegant with artistic body movements) and martial art (to show the high skills of traditional Chinese fighting exercises).
The Opera has included standardized rules that have been respected in all of the performances, such as the percussion instruments -that provide a fine rhythmic accompaniment to the acting-, and the four main types of roles of the traditional opera.
The acting is based on allusion: gestures, footwork, and other body movements represent such actions as rowing a boat, riding a horse or opening a door.
The characters may be loyal or treacherous, beautiful or ugly, good or bad.
Their images are vivid manifestation of gladness, anger, sorrow, happiness, surprise, fear and sadness.
Beijing Opera is the greatest Chinese Opera, with an extensive repertoire and an important number of artists and audiences. Some of the Beijing Opera’s masters are: Dans - Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Shang Xiaoyun and Xun Huisheng. The more celebrated operas include: “Farewell My Concubine”, “Injustice to Dou'e”, “Lady Zhaojun Going beyond the Great Wall” and “Matchmaker”.