Taiwanese opera

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Taiwanese Opera

Taiwanese (folk) opera (Chinese: 歌仔戲; pinyin: gēzǎixì; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: koa-á-hì; literally: "song-drama") is the only form of traditional drama known to have originated in Taiwan.[1] The language used is a stylized combination of both literary and colloquial registers of Taiwanese. Its earliest form adopted elements of folk songs from Zhangzhou, Fujian, China. The story elements are traditionally based on folk tales of the Hokkien (Minnan) region, though in recent years stories are increasingly set in Taiwan locales. Taiwanese opera was later exported to other Min Nan-speaking areas.

Taiwanese opera is considered as the embodiment of Taiwanese history and tradition because the political identity crisis of Taiwan shaped the development of gezaixi.[2]

History[edit]

Taiwanese Opera

Origin[edit]

Taiwanese opera is the only form of Han traditional drama known to have originated in Taiwan, specifically the Yilan region. In the early stages, most Han immigrants in Yilan were from Zhangzhou, Fujian. Koa-á were story-telling ballads spoken in Min Nan. Each line could have five- or seven- characters, and every four lines constituted a paragraph.[3]

Formation[edit]

Jinge 錦歌 is the forerunner of Taiwanese opera. As early as seventeenth century, immigrants from southern Fujian, China brought Jinge, the popular folk songs that set the poetry in local dialect to Taiwan. Around nineteenth century, amateur singers in Yilan area of northern Taiwan modified Jinge and gradually developed a new style called Kua-A or Koa-á in Taiwanese Min Nan 閩南 Language or Gezai 歌仔 in Mandarin Chinese.

Other than Jinge, Taiwanese opera absorbed the styles of formal operas including Peking opera 京劇, Luantan opera 亂彈戲, Siping opera 四平戲, Liyuan opera 梨園戲, and Gaojia opera 高甲戲. Between 1923 and 1949, Peking opera troupes from Shanghai and Fujian, China toured Taiwan. Some actors stayed in Taiwan and became performing director of Taiwanese operas. The influences of Peking operas can be seen in repertory, gesture, movement, percussion music and costume. Fighting themes and acrobatic movements became standards in the operas.[4]

Early Development[edit]

Taiwan was Japan’s colony during 1895 to 1945. In the early stage, Japan government allowed the local customs to develop without much interference and Taiwanese opera continue to thrive. In Ho-yi Lin’s book “Taiwanese Opera”, she describes how Taiwanese opera took root in China. She stated, “It’s worth noting that in 1928, the San Le Hsuan troupe, on a pilgrimage to Wu Wang Temple in southern Fujian, performed with great success in Bai-chiao and Xiamen… In succession, Taiwanese troups such as Ni Sheng, Ni Kuan, Dan Feng, Mu Dan and Tun Yi also performed in Fujigan province.” [5]

First Decline During Huangminhua 皇民化 Period 1936-1945[edit]

After the pacific war broke out, Japanese government changed the previous policy and implemented Huangminhua policy that encouraged Japanized culture. Japanese government prohibited the public performance of Taiwanese opera. Even though many troupes were disbanded and Taiwanese opera witnessed its first decline, local people still tried to perform Taiwanese operas in secrecy. Taiwanese opera, also known as wangguodiao (literally, "music from a dying nation") provide an outlet for Taiwanese people to search for their identify and fight for the "in-betweenness" of cultural influences of Taiwan, Japan and China. [6]

Golden period 1945-1962[edit]

Taiwan was restored to China after World War II. Taiwanese opera were revived and more than one hundred troupes were formed within a year. In 1949, there were over five hundred registered troupes.[7] Taiwanese operas entered into its Golden age. During this time, Chen Cheng-san 陳澄三 founded “Kung Le She” troupe and he was the first person to use written scripts for the performance. He commissioned Chen Shou-jing to write scripts of "Broken Dreams of the Red Chamber" (紅樓殘夢).[8]

Even during the golden period, Taiwanese opera continued to face challenges and adapt to the changes in political and cultural environment. The rise of the new broadcasting medias including radio, film and television show, the influence and popularity of western pop songs and movies drew the general public’s attention and presented serious competitions. In addition, the shift of political environment and the Mandarin-speaking movement implemented by Kuomintang provided little support for the Taiwanese-language based art form. The indoor performances decreased and opera troupes experimented performing on radio, film and television and large outdoor settings.

Transformation[edit]

Starting in 1954, Taiwanese operas performed on radios. In 1955, Chen Cheng-san filmed the first white and black movie of Taiwanese Opera “Xue Pin-Gui and Wang Bao-chuan” 薛平貴與王寶釧 and the premier was a huge success.[9] In 1962, Taiwanese Television Company established and started broadcasting Taiwanese operas. In 1982, CTS (Chinese Television Station) Taiwanese Opera Troupe performed in Mandarin Chinese language instead of the local dialect Min Nan 閩南. Televised operas are similar to soap operas and greatly increased the popularity of Taiwanese operas. However, certain traditional elements are lost because television shows feature less singing and body movements.[10]

In the early 1980s Taiwanese opera was brought to the television audience, with Yang Li-hua (Hokkien transliteration as Iûⁿ Lē-hoa ; 楊麗花) as its popular face.[11] The artistic elements remained largely traditional, however. Taiwanese opera, like other forms of Chinese opera and theater around the world, often traditionally uses cross-dressed performers (反串; fǎnchùan; hóan-chhòan), specifically women portraying men's roles in the case of Taiwanese opera.

Modern and experimental forms show some propensity for syncretism. Western instruments such as the saxophone and guitar have been used in some performances. Loose Western adaptations have included Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector.Perhaps due to the influence of the Taiwanese localization movement, stories set in Taiwan, as well as aboriginal characters and stories, have been developed in recent years. Taiwanese forms of the Hakka tea-picking opera show some influence. Fans of the opera attribute its continuing relevance to a willingness of performers to adapt to modern times in terms of style and artistic diversity.

Second Decline[edit]

Taiwanese opera's success in movie and television industry ironically becomes one of cause that eventually leads to the decline of indoor staged performances. Chen Shen-Fu, a general producer of the Ming Hua Yuan 明華園 Taiwanese Opera Troupe, said: "Although we know everything they do is for survival, that is not right. They are doing something that will kill the life of the opera."[12] Other factors include political policy and social structure changes and western influences. Tsai Tsung-Te summarized the period of decline:

The main social changes were the rise of many forms of entertainment in the 1960s and the transformation of society from agricultural to industrial and commercial in the 1970s. Government policies that were detrimental to Taiwanese opera were 1) the promotion of only national theater -- Peking Opera, 2) standardization of plays, and 3) Limitations on religious performances and on the use of dialects.[13]

Future Direction[edit]

Taiwanese opera is considered as the embodiment of Taiwanese history and tradition and the political identity crisis of Taiwan shaped the development of gezaixi.[14] Taiwanese opera history reflects the growth and changes in Taiwan society starting from the earlier immigration influences, oppression of Japanese Huangminhua movement to the little support from Kuomintang government during martial law era and the transformations of modern medias, Taiwanese opera struggles to remain its vitality.

The refined operas in modern concert halls establish a new direction of Taiwanese opera development. One of the notable troupes is Ming Hua Yuan 明華園 (MHY). The article "A Theatre of Taiwaneseness: Politics, Ideologies, and Gezaixi" gives an account of MHY's success:

In 1983, MHY was the first among other folk theatres to appear on the stage of a national theatre, Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (Taipei). A more telling example is in 1989 when MHY got permission to perform in the Zhihang airforce base. In the past, only Beijing opera had been considered proper enough to tour military bases. Three years later, MHY toured military schools. The audience's response was far more enthusiastic than it was for Beijing opera.[15]

This transformation also reflects on the opera storylines. The traditional plots are historical and heroic events, legends and myths. Taiwanese operas gradually added more romantic elements. The intense drama and the love-hate relationships are the focuses of the televised operas. The Legend of the White Snake is a typical story that combines the myth, religion, and romance.

Performance elements[edit]

Characters[edit]

Originally there are three roles in Taiwanese opera, Sheng (生), Dan (旦), and Chou (丑). Later, as Taiwanese opera began to incorporate more styles from other major operas, it gradually expanded to include eight major characters.

Performers and roles[edit]

Male Leads (Sheng)(生)[edit]

These characters are gentle and brave.

  • laosheng(老生)
  • xiaosheng(小生)
  • fusheng(副生):Supporting actor
  • fansheng(反生)
  • wusheng(武生):martial artist

Laosheng is an older male lead. Old shengs have a chaste and decent disposition. Young male characters are known as xiaosheng.

Female Leads (Dan)(旦)[edit]

In Taiwanese opera there are four subtypes in dan roles.

  • Laodan (老旦)
  • ku dan (苦旦):sorrowful female character
  • wu dan (苦旦): female warrior
  • Laodan is a dignified older role and she is a straight arrow. Also she reveals sentiment of the affection to the children so she takes sides with her children.

siao chou

Jester(Chou)(丑)[edit]

  • Chou(丑) :male jester

Costume[edit]

Stage properties and figures[edit]

Stage properties and figures are a part of dancing. Taiwanese opera are not graphic. Sometimes a chair in Taiwanese opera stands for a fence or a bridge. Rasing red flags stands for fire, rasing blue flags stands for water, and rasing black flags stands for wind.[16] There are many types of figures:

  • Entrances and Exits
  • Pulling a Mountain
  • Walking a Circle
  • The Kneeling Walk
  • Small, Quick Steps
  • Sweeping Hair
  • The Bat Jump
  • The Vertigines Gesture
  • The Water Sleeves
Yehu
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Classification
Related instruments

Voices[edit]

The most important in Taiwanese opera is the music for voices.

Instruments[edit]

The use of a wide range of traditional musical instruments in Taiwanese opera.

Performance Types[edit]

Three-Role Tea-Picking Opera[edit]

The three-role opera is known as the story of tea-farmer Zhang Sanlang performed by one clown and two female roles and the plot and the singing are fixed. The three-role tea-picking opera is simple and does not have official stage. The stage is built before the performance.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ying-fen Wang, “Music and Chinese Society: Contemporary Taiwan,” in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol 7., edited by Robert Provine, Yosihiko Tokumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben. (New York: Garland, 2002), 436
  2. ^ Huei-Yuan Belinda Chang, “A Theatre of Taiwaneseness: Politics, Ideologies, and Gezaixi.” TDR, 41, No. 2 (Summer, 1997): 111-129. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1146628. (accessed: 27 September 2013)
  3. ^ Taiwanese Opera WebDex
  4. ^ Tsung-Te Tsai 蔡宗德, “Taiwanese Opera: a Theatre Between Stability and Change.” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, 1992), 26-27.
  5. ^ Ho-Yi Lin 林鶴宜, Taiwanese Opera (Taipei: Gov’t Information Office, 2000), 10.
  6. ^ Hsiao-Mei Hsieh, “Music from a Dying Nation: Taiwanese Opera in China and Taiwan during World War II.” Asian Theatre Journal, 27, No. 2 (Fall, 2010): 269-285. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/atj/summary/v027/27.2.hsiao-mei.html. (accessed: 27 September 2013)
  7. ^ Tsung-Te Tsai 蔡宗德, “Taiwanese Opera: a Theatre Between Stability and Change.” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, 1992), 35.
  8. ^ Ho-Yi Lin 林鶴宜, Taiwanese Opera (Taipei: Gov’t Information Office, 2000), 12.
  9. ^ Ho-Yi Lin 林鶴宜, Taiwanese Opera (Taipei: Gov’t Information Office, 2000), 12.
  10. ^ Ho-Yi Lin 林鶴宜, Taiwanese Opera (Taipei: Gov’t Information Office, 2000), 15.
  11. ^ Yanqiu Chen, Ying zhi hong : Prima Donna of Taiwanese opera. (Taipei: Xhi Shi, 2005), 10.
  12. ^ Tsung-Te Tsai 蔡宗德, “Taiwanese Opera: a Theatre Between Stability and Change.” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, 1992), 41
  13. ^ Tsung-Te Tsai 蔡宗德, “Taiwanese Opera: a Theatre Between Stability and Change.” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, 1992), 42
  14. ^ Huei-Yuan Belinda Chang, “A Theatre of Taiwaneseness: Politics, Ideologies, and Gezaixi.” TDR, 41, No. 2 (Summer, 1997): 111-129. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1146628. (accessed: 27 September 2013)
  15. ^ Huei-Yuan Belinda Chang, “A Theatre of Taiwaneseness: Politics, Ideologies, and Gezaixi.” TDR, 41, No. 2 (Summer, 1997): 125. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1146628. (accessed: 27 September 2013)
  16. ^ 明華園官方網站 www.twopera.com

External links[edit]