Traditional Chinese operas take comedy route to woo audiences

For fans of traditional Chinese operas, when the lights are dimmed and the curtain goes up, they are immersed in the actors’ techniques of singing, martial arts and the exquisite costumes as well as the band playing the gongs and the drums on the side of the stage.

The stories are usually adapted from traditional Chinese folklore about heroes, life and death, and justice.

However, at the ongoing Beijing International Comedy Festival, audiences can enjoy three comedies done in three different traditional Chinese opera styles.

“Comedy is difficult. But for the first time, we have traditional Chinese operas at the comedy festival because we want to show audiences a different side of the ancient art forms, which could be fun and entertaining,” says Yang Qianwu, secretary-general of the Beijing Theater Association, one of the initiators of the Beijing International Comedy Festival.

Launched in 2017 by the Beijing Federation of Literary and Art Circles, the festival kicked off on July 22 and will run through Aug 22 with 14 comedies staged at popular theaters in the capital, including the Mei Lanfang Grand Theater, the Longfu Theater and the Drum Tower West Theater.

The Northern Kunqu Opera Theater will stage its production, Shi Hou Ji, or The Lioness Roars, on July 26 and 27, and it is a comedy based on a work originally titled Gui Chi, or Kneeling by the Pond, by Wang Tingne of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It’s about a henpecked husband and a jealous wife.

One of the oldest traditional Chinese opera forms, Kunqu Opera, which is about 600 years old, combines singing, dancing, martial arts and lyrical recitation, performed in the melodic Suzhou dialect.

UNESCO listed Kunqu Opera as an intangible heritage of humanity in 2001.

The Northern Kunqu Opera Theater, founded in Beijing in 1957, is the only professional theater in northern China dedicated to Kunqu Opera. And it premiered the play three years ago in Beijing, featuring award-winning Kunqu Opera actor Shao Zheng and actress Wei Chunrong.

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