Yu’s Garden Chinese Restaurant in Glen Ellyn, IL would like to introduce you to the intricacies of the Beijing Opera so that you can appreciate one of our cultural icons. Beijing Opera or Pekin Opera is the combination of music, singing, mime, dance and acrobatic performance. Beijing Opera has been around since the Tang Dynasty (712-755), but was mainly restricted to being performed in the Imperial courts. It began to take off in popularity among the common people during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) when the performers started using the common language in the performance. It is still one of the more popular art forms of China and is considered a national treasure.
So what distinguishes Beijing Opera from Western opera? The most common visual difference is the use of face painting in the operas. The operas always have four main characters that are then given depth by the type of face painting that is used. The Four characters are: Sheng (生) – the man, Dan (旦) – The woman, Jing (净) – painted face, and Chou (丑) – the clown. The characters all use face paint, but the Jing character uses it in more intricate designs. The main characteristic of this character can be drawn from the main color used in the face painting. If the make-up is mainly red it signifies bravery and loyalty. If it is mainly black it symbolizes being bold and impartial. White is the color of treachery and cunning and used to denote the villain of the show. Other colors may be used as well: Blue denotes fierceness and far seeing, Yellow means ambition, pink represents sophistication and cool-tempered, and Green implies wild and impulsive behavior. The clown character is distinguished by the use of make-up only in a small section in the center of the face connecting the eyes and nose.
While the face painting is the most noticeable difference at the outset, the music and dancing set the opera apart as well. The music is also used to distinguish the characters roles. In the beginning of the art form, all female roles were played by men, and this is shown in the way the music was written. Although females now play those roles, the music and ‘acting’ techniques remain the same. The young men roles are denoted with a warbling voice signifying the voice changing. Other characters are denoted with a difference in the singing or the physical movements.
Beijing Opera is a fascinating compilation of the different cultures represented in China. You can watch announcements coming out of Chinatown in Chicago to see when and where there is a performance. In the meantime, come and visit us at 404 Roosevelt Road Glen Ellyn, or you can visit us on the web to see our menu and order take-out. We may not have the Opera, but we can share the food that makes China well known.