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The Prosperity and Development of New Operast

Getting Rid of the "Characteristics of People of Low Birth"

Along with the transformation of Chinese society, Chinese opera actors and actresses began to modify their performances, costumes and makeup to suit the tastes of the inhabitants of the newly burgeoning cities. The large number of peasants working in the cities and those urban citizens whose hometowns were in the countryside were their basic audiences. The different types of operas took root in different places. For instance, Huju Opera became very popular in Shanghai; Huaiju Opera in northern jiangsu; Luju Opera in Shandong Province; and Chuju Opera in Hubei and parts of Jiangxi. Some of them became fashionable for a time throughout the country, such as Yueju (Shaoxing opera from Zhejiang) and Pingju(found mainly in north China). In the beginning, these new operas were simple in form, with one-man, two-man and three-man shows as the mainstay. The two-man shows were very popular in Inner Mongolia, northern Shanxi, northern Shaanxi and northern Hebei. They included flower-drum opera, tea-picking opera, Tanhuang Opera of southern jiangsu and yangge opera.A Couple Enjoy Lanterns,a Huangmei drama, was popular in central Anhui Province. A sheng actor and a dan actress acted as the couple. On their way to view lanterns at the Lantern Festival, the couple chatted, sang and danced. Though there were only two performers, the stage was very lively. The three-man show mainly consisted of two chou actors and one sheng actor, or one sheng actor, one chou actor and one dan actress. These shows mainly took ordinary family life, love affairs and disputes among neighbors as their themes.

From the 1950s on, thanks to the support of government cultural institutions and the cooperation of intellectuals and artists, these local operas developed vigorously, until they became well known throughout the country. For instance, The Heavenly Maid and the Mortal performed by the Huangmei Opera Troupe from Anhui, tells a love story concerning young farmer Dong Yong and a fairy maid, became well known ovemight, as did Yan Fengying, the actress who played the role of the fairy maid.

Cheng Zhaocai and Pingju Opera

Lianhualuo (popular songs sung to the accompaniment of castanets), which had long been popular in Hebei and northeast China, developed into Pingju Opera.Pingju Opera troupes often put on shows in the theaters in Tangshan, Tianjin and other cities. This form of entertainment owes much to the efforts of Cheng Zhaocai (1874-1929), a talented man who was very knowledgeable about the performing arts. Born into a poor family, Cheng was a native of Luanxian County, Hebei. He was an actor as well as a writer In his short life of 55 years, he left nearly 100 Pingju Opera scripts. All of his dramas feature lucid, lively and straightforward language with a strong local flavor. His works laid a foundation for and exerted a profound influence on the artistic style of mp Opera. Third Sister Yang Brings a Lawsuit his his masterpiece. Third Sister Yang, the main character in the play, is a 16-year-old country girl who journeys to the city to get justice in a case of adultery and murder. This play touched the heartstrings of generations of theater-goers.

Yueju - "Women's Refined Opera"

In the early 20th century, a form of opera called luodichangshudiao was popular in Shengxian County, Zhejiang Province. As the performers drum and sandalwood clappers, they were also called "Didu troupes." At that time, the most outstanding Didu troupe in Shaoxing consisted of only male performers, while other troupes were composed of both male and female performers. In 1919, Didu troupes performed in Shanghai, and in the late 1920s, with the emergence of a large number of female performers, a Didu troupe with only female performers appeared; it was called the Women's Refined Opera. In the autumn of 1938, it formally adopted the name of Yueju Opera.

In the 1950s, a reform of Yueju Opera started, under the influence of Yuan Xuefen. Maintaining its soft, sweet tunes and melodies, and gentle and refined style, Yueju Opera adopted artistic achievements from the modern drama, Kunqu Opera and Western music, in an attempt to create a new performing style. The women artists replaced the mubiao system (Each drama had only an outline, rather than a script; actors performed as they wished, but within the outline.) with scripts. The operas now had definite directors. A special kind of ancient costume was created, modern stage settings and lights were introduced, and some Western musical instruments were incorporated in the orchestra. (Fig.4-4)

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