You’ve all heard of the Peking Opera, right? If you follow “The Amazing Race,” it was featured on a recent season, with competitors having put on all their fancy makeup and costumes. Well, that’s not the only famous Chinese-style of opera!
To consider this to be opera, you first need to forget everything you ever learned about the Western-style of opera, as there are very, very few similarities. This particular production (at Chengdu’s Jingjiang Theater), could best be described as a variety show. (And note, they don’t have that fancy makeup like they do in Beijing.)
It began as a mix of commedia dell’arte-type work, with clown-like characters in a cute little skit over a candle. From there, the show took off through more genres than I could wrap my head around, be it, operatic love scenes (with very little singing, I might add), dancers with long feathered headdresses, puppetry, shadow puppetry (with ones own hands), and an instrumentalist solo, playing a Chinese-variation on a violin.
But the highlight of the night were the two things which Sichuan opera is famous for….fire breathing and mask work (“Changing Faces”). There was no real plot as several masked performers (and a masked puppet) took to the stage and would wave a fan across their face and have a whole different mask on! (See video below.)
Performers even took to the audience, “changing faces” directly in front of patrons with absolutely nothing blocking the view! Impressively, they would tap their chins and faster than you could blink, their mask instantly changed before your eyes! It was quite an impressive experience!
Would my opera colleagues back home define this as opera? Not a chance. But in this particular case, do labels really matter? It was an exhilarating show (with free tea and peanuts to boot!), one which I am very glad to have experienced!