Question 1 – The Chinese Opera Music
Music has continued to grow in time across the globe. Indeed, music is one of the revered aspects of culture across the world. Even in a war-torn country, music still finds its way through such murky environments. Music has had an interesting history since its origin. However, music experienced change and dynamics in time. The current music is not comparable to the music of the past decades. Opera music performances have existed for a long time. This genre is the most appreciated music of all times. Operas play the role of uniting nations and forging relations. As a result, operas appear to be powerful political and social tools in the global arena. This genre has recently incorporated new thoughts and ideas. Men playing the role of women in the performances have raised a spirited debate that continues to evoke different emotions. This paper shall analyze the gender performance in the Chinese opera and its effectiveness I growing this genre.
The Nandan is a man plying the role of a woman in Chinese opera performance commonly known as the Peking theatre. This musical art was developed in the 19th century but came to the limelight in the 18th century. However, it is said that Peking theatre developed in the 14th to the 17th century during the Ming dynasty. Peking theatre is a combination of song, recitation, body movements, and dance. This opera is a clear explanation of the Chinese culture in the early years. Men played all the roles in this theatre. It can be concluded that women had no place in the Chinese performance and art in general.
The Peking composers had mastered the skill of role switching. All the composers cared to train and give all the roles to men. Therefore, men had to undergo a lot of training in order to perform the female roles without fail. These required long hours of training in the theatre. In addition, men were forced to use the falsetto in order to bring out the feminine voice quality. Moreover, the performance incorporated acrobatics and swift movements. These roles would have proved challenging for women. As a result, the opera was entirely performed by men. These compositions were sophisticated with different Nandans being specialized roles of women. There were names for young, middle aged, married, and unmarried women perfectly played by men.
The Peking theatre continued to attract audiences from across China. However, the socialist movement and propaganda threatened its existence. During the Cultural Revolution in China, Peking theatre was associated with the high class and the bourgeoisie. Therefore, it lost popularity and faded off the theatre. In the last thirty years, there has been little of the Nandan and Peking theatre on stage. This vacuum has created a vacuum and space for change and critical analysis of this genre of music. This has brought about change and transformation in the theatre. Women have now become part of the culture and dance on stage. This is a big step into the opera, which was earlier seen as a reserve for men only. Some of the current artists include Tamasaburo who has been organizing these performances across the world.
Of concern however, are female actors in this theatre playing the powerful roles. The Nandan have slowly faded away. There are little of them in the Peking opera. According to critics, Peking theatre has constantly diminished and lost its earlier appeal. During its dark times, Peking theatre had more performers than the audience. It is not wonder that it has completely reformed. The incorporation of women seems to be the recipe for success. Moreover, most parents are unwilling to send their boys to play the role of a Nandan. In the recent times, Peking theatre does not pay much to the performers. This culture has been left for the poor and the families with a strong affinity for Opera.
Another debate that shrouds the performance by Nandan in the Peking theatre is sexuality. Currently, there is a lot of debate on sexual orientation. Men who play female roles are subjected to discrimination and speculation on their sexual orientation. As a result, most parents have restricted their male children from performing in the Peking opera. This cultural change and evolution has had a negative effect on Peking theatre. Currently, there are no boys in the Chinese school of theatre taking Nandan courses. These statistics predict a grim future for the Peking Opera.
To win the lost audience and reception for this theatre, directors have opted to incorporate women in the performance. In addition, the performers have made this genre more sophisticated and classy. This has attracted the elite in the society as well as the rich. These persons are helping to make these performances better and influential across the globe. However, the organizers and producers are living nothing to chance. The performances have become unique, sophisticated, and powerfully executed. This is a clear show of the changing culture and globalization. This opera have also gained recognition from the United Nations. This was after the Peony Pavilion version of 1550-1615 was performed to a live audience. The cultural richness and appeal of this opera have also contributed to its growth in the recent times. Currently, the Peking theatre is the international oral and intangible heritage of humanity. It also displays the Chinese fashion, culture and conspicuous production.
Question 2 – Opera and International Relations
1930 saw the introduction of Chinese Opera in the American Society. The agent carrying this cultural debut was none other than Mei Lanfang, a leading Peking opera performer in China. In his tour, Mei visited Hollywood, the world’s central fold of theatre and performance. He also did a tour across most of the major American cities. Documented reviews from that year show that the show was received with much fanfare. The shows attracted huge crowds, a feature that was not common in American theatres. Tickets to Mei’s shows were sold at skyrocket prices. This euphoria swept the whole continent and an eager audience and enthusiastic promoters who were eager to make a kill from Mei’s performances showed up to watch Mei perform. Mei Tickets that had been previously retailing for as low as three dollars were sold at eighteen dollars. Mei’s concerts were so hip that he had to extend his American tour from two weeks to five weeks. It is an undisputable fact that Mei’s tour was a huge success.
Mei’s tour was a cultural tour that aimed at introducing the Chinese culture to the America people. In fact, critics state that most Americans turned up at Mei’s concerts to ogle at the performers. The Chinese cinema represented a new cultural phenomenon to Americans. Americans welcomed this cultural exchange gleefully. Apart from being a cultural tour, this tour was political. Mei made this tour when the relations between America and China were estranged. American propaganda depicted China and its citizens as inferior. In fact, America exposed china as a poor country with inadequate resources. The image that many Americans had of China was that of poverty-stricken, pot-bellied, naked children. Mei’s concerts changed the perspective of many Americans concerning China. They started seeing China as a culturally rich country. Mei therefore played the role of an International Relations ambassador to America.
Today, such a tour would be well received by modern theatre fanatics. However, the reception in the twenty first century would not be as grand as that of 1930. This is because the theatre scene has grown widely and the Peking opera concept is not as new to the American theatre scene as it was several years ago. Theatre enthusiasts have been exposed to performances from across the world including Japan and India, which have almost similar cultural exposes as China. Therefore, the Peking Opera would be joining an already crowded list of operas. This is not to say that the art will be ignored. That is not possible. The opera is so rich that serious theatre connoisseurs cannot ignore it. The controversial aspect of inter-role playing where men play the role of women would present a subject of criticism and study by modern day scholars. Therefore, such an Opera would draw mixed feelings from Americans. An announcement that a Peking Opera is coming to town may not cause a stampede but it will surely attract fuller theatres.