Among the hundreds of forms of opera throughout China, Beijing Opera has the greatest influence and is therefore regarded as a national form. Beijing Opera is a comprehensive performing art that combines music, singing, dialogue, pantomime, acrobatics and martial arts. Hence an actor or actress in Peking Opera has to meet more requirements than that in other forms of performing art. He or she has to be a performing artist, a singer, and a dancer at the same time. It usually takes the student more than ten years of training to learn singing and acrobatic skills. Thus, it is difficult to be a qualified performer in Peking Opera.
Symbolism prevails in Beijing Opera. The stage of Peking Opera knows no limit in space or time. It can be the setting for any action. The performer's acting is mostly pantomime. Footwork, gestures, and various kinds of body movements can portray and symbolize the actions of opening a door, climbing a hill, going upstairs, or rowing a boat.
When a girl is doing needlework, she has neither a needle nor thread in her hands. When a lady is riding in a carriage, the performer actually has to walk flanked on each side by a flag with colored tassels represents riding a horse. Four generals and four soldiers represent an army of thousands. In a word, each action of a performer of Peking Opera is highly symbolic. Springing in Beijing Opera consists of a score of melodies based on "xi pi" and sorrowful feelings. Spoken dialogue is done in two forms: "yun bai", which sounds like the Hubei and Anhui dialects, and "jing bai", which sounds like the Beijing dialect. The former is used by main and serious characters and the latter for minor and frivolous roles. In Beijing Opera facial painting, which is applied to "jing" roles only, shows the character's age, profession and personality by using different colors. Each color symbolizes a certain characteristic; red for loyalty and uprightness, black for a rough, stern or honest mature, yellow for rashness and fieriness, white for a cunning and deceitful character, gold and silver for gods and demons. In Peking Opera, over one thousand painted facial patterns are used.
Each pattern lies in his ability to make subtle and interesting changes within the fixed facial pattern. The costumes in Peking Opera impress the audience with their bright colors and magnificent embroidery. Some of the costumes used in the present performances have a resemblance to the fashion of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The use of colors indicates different social status -yellow for the imperial family, red for high nobility, red or blue for upright men, white for old officials and black for each role. A student usually wears blue gown, general wears padded armor; an emperor wears a dragon robe. Besides gorgeous clothes and headdresses, jewel girdles for men and hair ornaments for women are also used in Peking Opera. Since Liberation, much has been achieved in reforming this traditional beijing opera. Efforts have been made to eliminate the feudal aspects, to improve stagecraft, and to widen the subject matter. New generations of young actors and actresses have emerged and are making new achievements on the basis of the traditional schools.
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