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Tibetan Opera

Tibetan Opera

Tibetan Opera, the most popular traditional opera of minority ethnic groups in China, is of numerous art varieties and schools due to the different natural conditions, life styles, cultural traditions and dialects in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The Tibetan play in Tibet is the precursor of Tibetan opera. Spread to Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan by monks and pilgrims that pursue further training in temples in Tibet, Tibetan play developed into many branches including Huangnan Tibetan opera of Qinghai, Gannan Tibetan opera of Gansu, and Seda Tibetan opera of Sichuan. Tibetan play is also popular in Tibetan-inhabited areas in India, Bhutan and Sikkim, etc.

Tibetan Opera is called Ace Lhamo in Tibetan, referring to "fairy.” It was said the opera is performed by seven sisters and the contents are mostly the fairy tales in Buddhist scriptures that originated from the Tibetan religious art in the 8th century, hence the name. By the 17th century, it separated from the religious rites in temples and formed into a folk performance combining dances, chants, songs, and masks. The aria music in Tibetan Opera is loud and sonorous, which are selected according to singers accompanied by others. Originally performed in public areas, there aren’t too many instruments except a drum and a pair of cymbals. Three parts compose the performance, the first is "Doin", referring to the beginning singing and dancing to sacrifice to the gods; the second is called "Xong" which is a main body of opera and the last part was the epilogue, or Zhaxi, which in Tibetan is translated as blessing. The remaining repertoire of the traditional programs centers on historical tales and legends, represented by Princess Wencheng; romantic fables, represented by Dhama King Norsang; and social life, represented by Miss Langsha. Only one type of costume is in the whole performance and the performers do not wear make up but a mask instead. There are two main types of masks, the white and blue mask. The blue mask has formed into four genres due to the region disparities during its long time development, particularly, Gyumolong ensemble, jongba ensemble, Xiangba ensemble and jiang gaer ensemble. The popular Shoton Festival is the time when most Tibetan Opera troupes put on performance, thus the Shoton Festival is also known as "Festivals of Tibetan Opera."

After the liberation of Tibet, the government of the autonomous region established the Tibet Drama Theatre based on the Gyumolong ensemble to shoulder the inheritance and development of Tibetan Opera. The staff later successively worked performed traditional dramas such as Princess Wencheng, Dhama King Norsang, and created some dramas of contemporary themes. Moreover, they also improve the stage design, making the opera perform on the stage with lighting, setting and accompany by orchestral music. In the 1980s, the Tibetan Opera Center of Qinghai Province is established in Huangnan where many famous works exerted influence both domestically and internationally. The newly added repertoires refresh the Huangnan Tibetan opera, for instance, in the drama of Yile Fairy, both traditional Tibetan instruments and modern band are added to accompany the singing which changes the former performance that only beat for the dance movements rather than singing. The improved stage art and setting in Huangnan Tibetan opera a offer people a new and fresh feeling.

With a long history, Tibetan Opera has its meticulous performing patterns and is irreplaceable in the spiritual life of Tibetan people. However, limited by the religious rules strictly, it is not affected by the Han culture largely, thus it is allowed to keep its previous performance and content features. Meanwhile, the drama script in Tibetan Opera is also the highlight of Tibetan literature, for it focuses on both rhythm and artistic conception, employing many maxims, proverbs and fable stories in the plots that reserve the essence of ancient Tibetan literature. Nevertheless, Tibetan Opera, similar to other drama types in China, met with competition by modern art forms and entertainments brought about by social change. The obstacles are shortage of funds, hard survival of troupes, lack of talents, lost of performance techniques and weak theoretical research. Consequently, Tibetan Opera in various areas demands for urgently protection  to save the ancient ethnic minority drama.