Beijng Opera

Scene during Beijing Opera
Beijing Opera performance.

Yesterday evening we went to see a Beijing Opera, or 京劇 in Chinese. Before we got there, we had been warned that this performance will be noisy, boring and that old people and tourist will be the only ones in the audience. Actually in the show we saw, I did not even spot many old Chinese, probably it was not an authentic piece, but rather made for tourists.
A “normal” version of Beijing Opera can easily last three hours whereas ours was only about one hour in length. I also think that the acrobatic part of the show was stressed in the tourist version, because Westerners can more likely admire performances that they are used to from Western shows than a rather boring singing of old Chinese stories that are not easy to understand.
Actually I did not understand them either, even though there were “sub”titles above the stage in Chinese and English. Furthermore, the content of the stories was briefly rolled out by an announcer beforehand. The Chinese announcement only contained the title – I don’t know whether they expected the Chinese audience to know the piece or simply did not want to annoy the tourists by a lengthy explanation in Chinese.

Audience during Beijing Opera
Some people in the audience did not enjoy the loud music and used some protection…

The story also does not seem to be played by the actors but is told the audience by the songs the actors are singing. Besides singing each character is performing a set of gestures and dances, only during the acrobatic part there was some “action” in the play.

Fishergirl during Beijing Opera
A fisher girl with her fishing rod.

Seeing this one Beijing Opera performance was probably enough for me for this semester, but I think if you go to Beijing for several months, it’s one of the things on your on you list of places you have to go to. And as the Chinese saying 百聞不如一見 says, one seeing it is telling you more about something than hearing about it one hundred times.
It was also interesting from the perspective of how the Chinese use their culture to meet the demands of an increasing number of foreign tourists coming to Beijing. These tourists obviously don’t want a three hour show with a lot singing they don’t understand, but they think Beijing Opera, Beijing Duck and Beijing historic sights have to be experienced on a trip to the Chinese capital.

A video taken during the acrobatic part of the show.


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