One of the things you should do during your China trip is going to the opera, and if you are travelling to Beijing then it’s a Must, because Beijing’s opera is considered the best Chinese opera style, and it’s also the most popular among Chinese people.

Inspired by ancient Chinese legends, these operas normally are about intrigues, disasters or rebellions but they are not big productions or have elaborated scenery and special effects, quite the contrary.

In fact, you have to be very perceptive to know what is happening, for example if the actor holds two silk laces it means that he is riding a horse, if he lifts a foot that he crosses a door, and as they use little props, the facial expressions and their movements are very important.

They wear very colorful clothes and elaborated make-up and they play very loud (so loud that you should consider wearing earplugs) because in the ancient times they played in the middle of the street and they had to catch everyone’s attention so they developed a very loud style of singing and music.

Every opera has a group of music players and they play different instruments, the èrhú and the húqin, a violin and viola but with only two strings, the shēng, a reed flute, and a pípa, a kind of lute. The most important instrument is the ban for it controls the timing for both, the music and the actors.

But besides singing and playing music the Beijing opera is famous for its acrobatics and mime, the battle scenes are very attractive and the warrior women make very elaborate twirls so it’s always good to be paying attention to these scenes.

There are different kinds of characters in these operas but you can divide them in four big types:

  • The Shēng, the main male characters, they can be divided in Laoshēng,  ancient males  that always  have beards, the Shiăoshiēng, young males, the Wénshēng, students and servants and the Wushēng,  soldiers.
  • The dàn are the feminine roles, the Laodàn are elderly ladies, the Qīngyī are aristocrats with elaborate dresses, the Huādàn are female servants, the Dăomădan are  warrior women and the Căidàn are female comedians.
  •  The Jìng are the heroes and demons with painted faces, they are always strong and brave characters and the fújìng are their counterpart, ridiculous and weak figures.
  • The Chou are male comedians, buffoons.

All in all, if you want to have a good time you should go to an opera and, as they are very long, you can look at what other people are doing if you get bored, that is a show in itself because they eat, talk and drink tea, things that are not disrespectful because the music is so loud that you will hear it perfectly.

Going to an opera in Beijing is an experience that you can’t miss so, during your Beijing trip; make sure to go at least one time to an opera!

Jack Li

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