2005-01-24

Asian opera

China Daily reports a new effort in the PRC to document the complete repertory of traditional Chinese opera. Also known as Beijing or Peking opera, this renowned form of musical theater employs a set number of traditional stories. An alarming amount of that repertory, though, has been lost in one generation. Anyone who has seen the Chen Kaige film Farewell, My Concubine knows why: Mao's Cultural Revolution attempted to eliminate this art form and many of the artists who made it. When times changed, traditional opera returned but many of the people who made it did not. Lost with them was their accumulated knowledge of the tradition.


Today specialists at the Chinese Academy of Arts and related organizations hope to prevent further loss through documenting every aspect of the art form. One result will be a comprehensive online library of traditional Chinese opera.

Here in Taiwan the art form has enjoyed an unbroken history, thanks in large part to programs like that at the National Fu Hsing Dramatic Arts Academy. The Academy schools students in all aspects of traditional Chinese opera. The Academy's museum of traditional masks and costumes regularly attract international visitors.

A more indigenous art form, Taiwanese opera, shares some conventions with its traditional Chinese cousin as well as with Japanese theater, but it uses the Taiwanese language and relies on Taiwanese folk elements in music and story. The shows are more likely than Chinese opera to be performed outdoors. Visitors are more likely to encounter this theatrical form during summer months, particularly around the time of the Dragon Boat Festival. The styles of Taiwanese opera exist, a 'northern' and 'southern' style. The repertory for both continues to grow and expand.

All forms of Asian opera inspire modern composers and playwrights.

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