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Huangmei Opera

Huangmei Opera

Huangmei Opera came from Huangmei, Hubei Province. It was originally known as Huangmei Tune or Caicha (tea-picking) Opera. It is now popular in Anqing City in Anhui Province, and Huangmei County in Hubei Province.  

During the late Qing Dynasty the Caicha Tune of Huangmei County was introduced into the neighboring areas of Huaining County, Anhui Province. This combined with local folk art and songs, and was sung in the Anqing dialect with a monologue, thus a new kind of opera gradually developed, known as Huai Tune, which formed the basis of what was later to become Huangmei Opera. It absorbed Qingyan Tune, and was influenced by the performance and drama of Hui Tune, and thus the Huangmei Opera was born. Anqing City became the center and after more than a hundred years’ development, Huangmei Opera has become a major local opera in Anhui Province and achieved national fame.

The music of Huangmei Opera includes three main variations, coloratura, Caicha tunes and the main tunes. Coloratura is a major part of small-scale opera performance, characteristically healthy, simple, graceful and vivid, reflecting the sense of life and color of folk songs. Caicha music is widely used in coloratura operas, with light, melodic songs. The main tunes are often used in the original or traditional Huangmei Opera which is different in Pingci 平词), Huogong (火攻), Er’xing (二行) and Sanxing (三行). Among these three, the Pingci (平词) variation uses more solemn and graceful tunes. Huangmei Opera vividly expresses lyrical emotion. It is easy to understand, and its expressive, simple and vivid tunes have made it very popular throughout the country. The early musical accompaniment to Huangmei Opera was provided by three musicians, playing drum, cymbals, and small and large gongs. They also provided vocal accompaniment, known as “Sanda Qichang” (which means to play instruments three times and sing seven times). After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, Huangmei Opera officially established the accompaniment system, with the main one being a Hu, or two-stringed traditional fiddle.

The roles of Huangmei Opera were developed on the basis of “Liangxiaoxi” (two performers) or “San Xiaoxi” (three performers). A performer may undertake more than one role, such as Zhengdan (main female role), Zhengsheng (leading actor), Xiaodan (a young female role), Xiaosheng (young man), Huandan (a female role), clown, Laodan (an old female role), Laosheng (old actor), Hualian (a male role with a painted face), Daomadan (a female role with sword), Wuerhua (acrobatic fighting performer). With dancing, singing and clear emotion expression, Huangmei Opera is rich in its reflection of everyday life and famous for its depiction of the experience of life and love, along with its natural and graceful artistic style. There are many operas known to all such as Goddess Marriage, Emperor’s Son-in-law, Cowherd and Weaving Girl, A Couple Enjoys Lanterns, The Seventh Fairy Maiden (or Heavenly Princess and the Mortal), Da Zhucao and Cotton Yarn Spinning.

Huangmei Opera is one of the five major styles of Chinese opera, and is a significant influence on Chinese opera. As the rural population declines there are fewer local troupes able to support themselves without government and public support, despite the success of the top professional companies.