China’s opera has undergone more than 800 years and ranks as one of the world’s three major classical theatrical forms. Stage culture of Beijing, mainly represented by Peking Opera (Beijing Opera), is a great art treasure of Beijing.
Peking Opera, also known as Jingxi (Beijing’s drama), is China’s national opera. Called “the quintessence of Chinese culture” in China, it represents the “essence” of China with its 200 years history. Peking Opera flourished during the middle and late Qing Dynasty. Opera houses such as Guangdelou, Qingleyuan, Sanqingyuan, Qingheyuan and Zhongheyuan all played music and provided excellent dramas continuously. From the mid-Qing Dynasty to the early years of the reign of Emperor Guangxu, the Qing court saw its evolution from prosperity to decline, but the urban economy maintained relatively steady development. This created favorable conditions for the opera’s development. The outer city became a place for singers from all over the China to show their talents, giving performances and making a living. The opera celebrities of various generations created numerous art treasures here, making valuable contributions to the development of China’s opera.
As an artistic performance form, Peking Opera features various roles, requires mature performance skills and an imposing manner. Singing, speaking, dancing and choreographed combat are the four performance skills of Peking Opera; its distinctive and symbolic facial make-up adds to the excitement.
Kunqu Opera, another major form of Chinese opera popular in Beijing, originated during the Ming Dynasty. The 600 years old Kunqu Opera is one of the oldest existing dramas in China and regarded as “the ancestor of a hundred operas, and the teacher of a hundred dramas” in China. It has exerted significant influence on all the dramas in modern China, such as the Sichuan Opera and Peking Opera.
In the early 17th century, Beijing had already become one of the Chinese staging centers of Kunqu Opera; it was popular with imperial families and ordinary people and became a distinct and important form of Chinese opera. Kunqu singing has a strong artistic quality, and the dance movements of Kunqu Opera are very expressive. Many people find the storylines of Kunqu Opera more comprehensible than the tales of Peking Opera.
Both Peking Opera and Kunqu Opera are listed among World Intangible Cultural Heritage. Because of Beijing’s special history and position, which fostered the development of the two operas in the city, you can enjoy both when traveling in Beijing. In addition to opera, the ballad and acrobatics of Beijing are also attractive performing arts.
Beijing houses the nation’s top theatres featuring Peking Opera and Kunqu Opera. The Mei Lanfang Grand Theatre is named after Mei Lanfang, China’s most famous master of Peking Opera. The theatre, an integration of the traditional and modern arts, is a must-visit if you love Peking Opera. It will be easy for you to get to the Mei Lanfang Theatre: take Subway Line 2, get off at Chegongzhuang Station and then you can walk to the theatre.
Address: No.32, West Ping’anli Avenue, Xicheng District, Beijing.