History of Chinese Opera can be traced back to 200 BC, in the other hand western opera began to form in Greece in 600 BC. Not until more than 1000 yrs later, both Chinese and western opera came to a mature and prosperous point. Nowadays Chinese opera usually refers to Beijing Opera, which regarded as the national opera, but many other regional opera also play important roles The first and the most famous western opera is developed in Italy, later in the 18th cent. opera sung in German and English started to bloom
Now we’ll talk about the concept of theatre. In this picture, we can see the difference between imitation and exaggeration. To show a carriage, in western opera we have to make a real one with delicated decoration . We can see the compartment and the horses, too. However, for the Chinese opera, the actor only needs to hold two flags with a drawing of wheel to show that she is in a carriage.
By this picture. We know that Western opera is all about imitation. Influenced by the scientific thinking, in the classical unities, Aristotle stated that Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete and whole. Any inaccuracy in aspect of action, place and time can disjoint the whole play. So the motive of western opera is to provide the audience with an illusion of real life and stimulation of sense. In order to create stimulation of sense, conflicts, violence and death become key elements to Western opera. As Aristotle also said that, “An absolutely lifelike imitation can bring pleasant sensation, no matter the object is a dead body.”
However, for the Chinese opera, imitation of daily life doesn’t take a big part in the show. We lay stress on the emotional expression of different roles in the play. And The motive of Chinese opera is to provide the audience with a performance which let them to express their interior emotion. That’s why exaggeration in aspect of costume and plot is adopted in Chinese opera. For the stories, because logic and science didn’t play an important role in traditional Chinese society, we always talk about Destiny, fate, and request of harmony between human beings and the nature. Sometimes conflict can be exclude from the plot.
Since western opera is very much influenced by Greek drama, we can find that the stage setting in western opera presents traditional greek rational and scientific idea, which developed in a way that aim at making the stage close to the reality. E.g. if it is necessory, stage designer will build grand golden palace and huge ship on the stage, in order to have the audience feel like in a real palace or on a real ship. On the contrary, the stage in Chinese opera is quite simple. Sometimes even without any decorations nor stage properties. Many of them are built for temporary performances during festivals or special celebrations. Common properties are “1 Table and 2 Chairs”. Existence of these 3 objects represent an indoor scene. Besides, they are multi-functional. They can be used to represent other objects like bed. If the 2 chairs are stacked up, it represents a hill.
A plan of typical Beijing opera stage setting
Actors in both chinese and western opera must be, at the same time, very good singers. Although the vocal style is different in chinese and western opera, both of them require loud and powerful voices as well as clear and correct pronunciation. In western opera, singers and the roles they play are classified by voice type, based on the tessitura, agility, power and timbre of their voices. Usually only Tenor( 男高音 ) and Soprano( 女高音 ) can be the leading actor and actress For chinese opera, there are even more requirements and skills apart from singing.
Actors in C hinese opera are classified into 4 types, men, women, “Flower-face” are important historical characters like emperors and Dukes, my partner will talk more about the masks of “flower-face” later. Different types of actors are trained to perform different skills, therefore Chinese opera is a combination of singing, martial arts, acrobatics and dancing.
Costume also shows the divergence of Chinese and Western opera. In Chinese opera, there is no distinction between the clothes of different dynasty. Different costumes only reflect that the actors are from different social classes. For example, here we can see that the commissioned officer is completely clad in armor. But for the scholar they wear a long gown. Both of their costume are highly exaggerated. It’s to say that in ancient time we didn’t dress like them. The colorful and exaggerated clothes are mainly for attracting audiences’ attention.
In Beijing opera, we can distinguish roles of different actors only by looking at their mask or facial makeup. For the male comedian. Their face should be painted in white in a funny style. For the main male and female role, their facial makeup are plain and clean. For the jings, which means primary or secondary roles, they must have a flower face. This means that their faces are painted colorfully like a flower.
Different color represents different characters for jings. Generally, Red, yellow, blue and black represents brave, justice and staunch. Green represents tenacious and hot tempered. While watery white represents treacherous and cunning, oily white refers to arrogant and stern. And Gold and silver represent gods and ghost respectively.
In Western opera, in general, research about the period of time of the play is very important. Designer should base on the information about the style during that period of time to design the costume. Because it make the audience believe that they are really watching an incident which happened at that period of time.
The Venetian mask is famous all over the world. It can be used in Opera too. But they are mainly for the roles of Gods, jester and animals. Different colors of the masks do not have direct relations to the roles’ character.
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