Jingju Opera (Peking Opera)

A form of musical theater that emerged as a national style in the 19th century, jingju combines plots, stylized gestures, acrobatics, makeup, costumes, and simple props. There are about two hundred traditional plays in the repertoire, the plots of which are drawn mainly from popular legends, historical events, novels, and other narratives. Characters are drawn from a repertoire of stock types, each type distinguished by costume, makeup, style of singing, and speech. The main role types are sheng (male), dan (female), jing (painted face), and chou (clown). Their respective subcategories, divided according to sex, age, and social status, are xiaosheng (young male), laosheng (old male), wusheng (male warrior), qingyi (mature woman), huadan (young lady), wudan (female warrior), laodan (old woman).


Jingju Opera includes arias, recitative-like short phrases, and heightened speech; a stylized stage speech with steeply rising and falling contours that exaggerate the natural intonation of spoken Chinese. Arias are based on thirty preexistent tune and rhythm pattern types called ban. By setting a ban to a new melody, a new aria is produced.  Arias are sung for narrative, lyrical, animated, dramatic, or interjective purposes. Instrumental music describes dramatic situations, spatial dimensions of the setting, moods, and psychological makeup of the characters. Its main purpose is to accompany singing and dancing. There is a high level of specificity: each individual piece is associated with a particular dramatic situation and mood, and each requires different playing techniques from the various instruments. Of the two main types of ban, erhuang are generally used for lyrical or tragic scenes while xipi, rhythmically livelier and more varied, can be used in many other dramatic situations.


The instrumental ensemble is divided into two groups, one melodic, the other percussive.  The wuchang (military) percussion ensemble includes over sixty conventional rhythmic patterns and special combinations of percussion instruments are used to indicate different dramatic situations, atmospheres, or moods.


Wenchang Ensemble                                                                              Wuchang Ensemble