When you are visiting China, it makes sense to discover the very essence of this fascinating culture as revealed in the art of Peking Opera. There are, of course, many places in Beijing where you can enjoy a show.
When you get to see the actors performing their art in Peking Opera, it is worth remembering that it is not at all easy to become an opera star. Traditionally children were selected by a teacher at a very tender age, and trained with them for seven years, during which time the teacher provided for all of the student’s needs – a debt that would later be repaid through performance earnings. Later, after 1911, there were more formal schools where students worked hard from early morning till late at their acting and combat skills, and endured beatings for failure. These schools were all closed down in 1931, and opened again in 1952.
Initially training is in acrobatics, and singing, and gestures. Students are taught in the styles of specific performers, such as Mei, Cheng, Ma, and Qi. Nowadays students also take in academic studies as well. If it turns out that a student does not have the talent for a primary role, there are numerous secondary or tertiary roles, and supporting cast positions, as well as musicians.
There are opportunities for tourists to try on costumes and makeup and get a feel for the Peking Opera if they are keen for the experience, maybe even try stretching your vocal chords a little.
Li Yuan Theater is an early teahouse-style theatre in the Xuanwu District in Beijing with a beautiful antique-style stage where Peking Opera is performed. The repertoire is carefully selected so that overseas visitors can really get a feeling for the art form while enjoying local snacks, and tea. And if you arrive early enough you can go backstage and watch the performers getting dressed and coloring their faces.
(which is also known as Temple Theatre Beijing Opera House)
Zhengyi Temple Theatre / Temple Theatre Beijing Opera House is one of the oldest and best-preserved wooden buildings in Beijing, and is located in a modest hutong a short walk from Qianmen. It was built in 1667 as an ancestral shrine, and later expanded into a playhouse where masters of Peking Opera such as Mei Lanfang regularly held court, and still puts on some of the best performances in the city. The theatre’s interior is a beautiful red, the wooden beams and balconies lavishly decorated, with the roofed stage as the magnificent centerpiece. The theatre is known for classical Peking opera, and also hosts the older form, Kunqu, as well as other performing arts. It is possible that here you can also try on some costumes and makeup to have a photo taken. Peking Opera shows are put on almost every night in this romantic and authentic, well-preserved building.
Reconstructed in 1996, the Chang’an Grand Opera House is a Peking Opera theatre in Beijing that has been well-known ever since long ago. With a combination of modern architectural art and classical national style, its performances include mainly traditional Chinese dramas, and is not as ‘touristy’ as some of the other venues if you want a really authentic experience.
Dedicated to China’s most famous Peking Opera singer, the Mei Lanfang Grand Theater is a Peking Opera venue with state-of-the-art facilities. It is a fan-shaped building with a stylish steel and glass structure, while the interior features some key traditional Chinese architectural elements such as the magnificent bright red columns and walls, which are often seen in royal palaces. Opened to the public in late 2007, the building is scientifically configured for excellent acoustics and equipped with hi-tech devices to produce amazing high fidelity audio effects. While this venue is less traditional in appearance it serves as a versatile platform for a range of large-scale shows, and is a compulsory visit for Beijing’s opera buffs.
In a courtyard complex just south of Caishikou is the Huguang Guild Hall. Built in 1807, it is regarded as one of the best wooden theatres in Beijing, and is still an active playhouse as well as the home to the Beijing Opera Museum which tells the story of Peking Opera with photos, costumes, traditional musical instruments, and other accessories. It was one of centers of political and social life in the late Qing Dynasty, where officials and commoners had fun together, dining, chatting and watching Peking Opera staged by famous actors. There are 3 kinds of tickets, and refreshments are served before the show.
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