Chinese Opera is a form of drama and musical theatre in China with roots dating back centuries. It is a performance art that is an amalgamation of various art forms that have been part of Chinese culture for ages. The art form evolved gradually over more than a thousand years, reaching its mature form in the 13th century during the Song Dynasty.
There are numerous regional branches of Chinese opera, of which the Beijing opera (Jingju) is one of the most notable. Although Chinese opera is seldom publicly staged in the 21st century, except in formal Chinese opera houses, it is a popular form of entertainment during the Chinese Ghost Festival in Asia.
The oldest form of Chinese opera is called Kunqu opera, or “Kun opera”. Opera-goers claim that the stories told through Kunqu opera are extremely easy to understand, even though the cultural codes are alien to Western audiences. What is said to be great about the Kunqu repertoire is its straightforward way of telling stories of love battling adversity in a society divided by class wars, failed exams, and the lord of the underworld. Kunqu is considered an impressionistic art in which dancing comes together with singing, helping portray emotions more effectively. Props are used sparingly, allowing the actors themselves to project everything from seating themselves to bobbing up and down the crest of waves like boats. Chinese opera also allows the watchers full freedom to use their imagination in producing the scene for themselves because of the minimal use of props.
Chinese opera also lacks the big gestures of romantic opera which comes as a relief to several opera-goers. What it lacks in loud orchestral harmonies, it more than makes up for in its delicately melodic Chinese instruments. Best enjoyed with an open mind, Chinese opera is a soft beauty which makes Asian culture even more colourful.
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