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Beijing Operas to be Performed at Hamilton

By staff  |  Contact staff
Posted January 23, 1996
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The Yu Yeh Chinese Opera Association of New York will perform three popular Beijing Operas at Hamilton College on Saturday, Feb. 3, at 8 p.m., in Wellin Hall of the Schambach Center for Music and the Performing Arts. Admission is $5 for the general public and $2 for students and faculty.

The performances, sponsored by the Asian Cultural Society, will be "The Jade Bracelet," "The Monkey King" and "Farewell My Concubine."

In Beijing opera, the actor's roles are divided under four main headings: sheng, dan, jing and zhou, or male, female, painted face and comic. Each role has its own vocabulary of gesture, walking and vocal technique. Training of opera performers begins at a very early age and is not only physically demanding, but often quite brutal.

The sheng are always male characters who represent scholars, statesmen, warriors, etc. They have no painted make-up and they mostly wear beards. Sheng are further divided into military roles if the part requires stage fighting and acrobatics, and civil roles if the part requires singing and acting only.

The dan actors play all of the women's roles, which, until recently, were played by men. Women had played important roles in Chinese theatre since the 12th century, but were banned from the stage in the late 18th century. It wasn't until the early 20th century that they were allowed to return . Today, all dan roles are played by women.

A particularly striking feature of the Beijing opera is the practice of painting the face and forehead with bold, colorful patterns. These are the jing roles, or the brave warriors, swashbuckling bandits, upright judges and occasionally, the gods and supernatural beings. In addition, the jing actors wear multi-layered costumes with padded shoulders to give bulk and high soled boots to increase their height. These roles require skill in fighting and gymnastics, and a powerful voice capable of protracted enunciation of tremendous volume.

The chou is the clown or comic of opera stage. He is at liberty to improvise, and the spontaneity of his performance is part of his technique. It is also the only role that consistently uses colloquial speech. The chou actors make-up is always characterized by a white patch around the eyes and nose.

Beijing opera is one of China's most recent theatrical forms, although it draws from a tradition extending back at least as far as the 12th century, when opera was performed in the huge public theaters of Hangzhou, then capital of the Southern Song dynasty (1179-1276).

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