Beijing Operas to be Performed at Hamilton

The Yu Yeh Chinese Opera Association of New Yorkwill 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 thePerforming Arts. Admission is $5 for the general public and $2 for studentsand faculty.

The performances, sponsored by the Asian Cultural Society, will be "The JadeBracelet," "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 andcomic. Each role has its own vocabulary of gesture, walking and vocaltechnique. Training of opera performers begins at a very early age and is notonly 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 stagefighting and acrobatics, and civil roles if the part requires singing andacting 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 sincethe 12th century, but were banned from the stage in the late 18th century. Itwasn'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 ofpainting the face and forehead with bold, colorful patterns. These are thejing roles, or the brave warriors, swashbuckling bandits, upright judgesand occasionally, the gods and supernatural beings. In addition, thejing actors wear multi-layered costumes with padded shoulders to givebulk and high soled boots to increase their height. These roles require skillin fighting and gymnastics, and a powerful voice capable of protractedenunciation of tremendous volume.

The chou is the clown or comic of opera stage. He is at liberty toimprovise, and the spontaneity of his performance is part of his technique. It is also the only role that consistently uses colloquial speech. The chou actorsmake-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 itdraws from a tradition extending back at least as far as the 12th century, whenopera was performed in the huge public theaters of Hangzhou, then capital ofthe Southern Song dynasty (1179-1276).

Back to Top