Chinese traditional opera is considered one of the world's three ancient operas, together with Greek tragedy and comedy, and Indian Sanskrit opera. Among the more than 360 ancient local operas in China, Peking Opera is known as China’s national opera, despite its comparatively young 200-year history.
Although it is called Peking Opera, the origins of Peking Opera are not in Beijing but in the provinces of Anhui (East China) and Hubei (South-central China). Its rise is due in great part to the favorable eyes and patronage of the imperial royalties.
Peking Opera is a purely Chinese opera form dating back to the year 1790, when the famous Four Anhui Opera Troupes first came to Beijing in celebration of the 80th birthday of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The tour was a hit and the troupes stayed. In 1828, some famous Hubei Opera Troupe players came to Beijing.
The artists of Hubei and Anhui troupes often jointly performed on the stage and absorbed repertoires, music, arias and performing techniques of each other and from other operas like Kun Qu, Qin Qiang and Bang Zi, as well as the local dialect and customs of Beijing. Its repertoires mainly depict fairy tales of preceding dynasties and important historical events.
It was after 1840 that Peking Opera formally took shape, growing even faster during the reign of the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), who was an opera aficionado. Classic Peking Opera repertoires and the names of the first-generation masters were on the lips of the people in Beijing, and eventually prevalent around the country.
Peking Opera Roles include sheng (male role), dan (female role), jing (painted-face male role), and chou (comedic male role), distinguished on the basis of sex, age, and personality.
Unlike European operas, which concentrate on usually one kind of performance in one stage representation, Peking Opera integrates music, singing, dance, costume art, makeup, acting and acrobatics into a unique whole.
Facial Make-up (Lianpu) in Peking Opera is mostly applied to the male roles of jing and chou, with particular styles to symbolize the different personalities, characteristics, and fates of the roles. Some people argue that the facial make-up is similar to the mask. Nevertheless, there are great differences between the two in that masks are separate from the face. Different make-up colors symbolize different personalities:
Red -- brave, faithful and wise men, with utter devotion
Purple -- wise, brave and steadfast men
Black – upright, outspoken, and never stooping to flattery
Blue -- brave, upright and outspoken men, but obstinate and unruly
Green -- hero of the bush, chivalrous but with a testy temper
Yellow -- valiant but ferocious military men or crafty civil officers
White – insidious and treacherous
Gold & silver -- mysterious monsters or gods
Peking Opera Costumes, mainly made of satin, crepe and silk and decorated with various meticulously embroidered patterns, tell a character’s sex and status at first glance, marking off people from all walks of life, noble or humble, civil or military. Accessories, including helmets and hats, constitute an integral part to bring about dramatic stage effects.
By means of costumes, the good and the evil are clearly distinguished. For instance, a gauze hat with oblong wings indicates a loyal official; in contrast, a corrupt officer’s gauze hat usually has rhomboidal wings.
Peking Opera Basic Skills include dance movements and special acrobatic movements while singing or reciting, a necessary requirements mastered by all actors and actresses.
1.Lingze Skills involve the manipulation of the two long pheasant tail feathers worn on wanions’ helmets , such as shaking and swinging. Together with head and body movements, the shaking of the feathers express s e motions such as surprise, hatred, happiness, and frivolity.
2.Bazi skills are combat skills, falling into three categories: the use of long weapons like broadsword, long-handled spear and staff; the use of one’s bare hands. Combat can be either serious or funny, but both should be emotional and rhythmical.
3.Cap-wing skills involve the manipulation of wings of the gauze cap. With the neck as the axis, the actor moves the wings of the cap up and down, twirls them, or moves them to the left or right, or from the front to the back. Sometimes, he makes them move or stop moving to indicate contradictory feelings, hesitation, or sudden joy, etc.
Beard Skills refer to the manipulation of beard, including ways of pushing, pulling holding up, spreading, tearing, throwing, shaking, circling, and blowing, to express a variety of feelings. Some of these actions are done at the same time.
Fan Skills help express many situations. As a special property, the fan can be used almost by all roles, especially popular among xiao sheng (a young man) and hua dan (a young gill maid)
Hair-swinging skills are special techniques for a male role to express his abnormal feelings, such as fear, sadness, hatred, or agony amidst death throes, The techniques include swinging circling, twisting, and spreading over the face or up in the air.
Sleeve skills are the lavish, dance-like movements made with flowing sleeves, with dozens of styles like ned to clouds, flowing water, cotton fields, waves, wheels ,and towers ,sleeves whirled in a wheel-like or flying movement exaggerate the feeling of characters. Holding up,spreading,throwing,shaking, and flicking are most popular movements
Tanzi skills, or carpet skills, usually go with movements like somersaults, leaps, jumps, and falls which are mostly carried out on a carpet or rug.
Waist and leg skills include somersaults, swaying from right to left and from left to right, kicks, leg stretches and pulls, and upward straightened leg movements, etc. Dances and acrobatics call for supple waists, so that the performers can control their center of gravity.