A Chinese opera extravaganza at the Herod Atticus

Combining song, poetry, music and dance, the Nanjung Municipal Beijing Opera Troupe presents a Chinese opera extravaganza at the Herod Atticus Theater tonight and tomorrow as part of this year’s Athens Festival. Though the Beijing Opera employs a fairly recent theatrical genre, it enjoys a tradition dating back to the 12th century, a time when operatic works went on stage at great public theaters in Hangzhou, the capital of the Song Dynasty. A popular theatrical form, dialogues were written in rhyming verse, and were either sung or recited accompanied by a string and wind orchestra together with an offstage choir. Overall, emphasis was laid on costume and make-up, rather than sets and design. In its most recent form, the Beijing Opera appeared for the first time in 1779, on the occasion of Emperor’s Qianlong’s 70th birthday. Even then, however, the performances’ themes still focused on issues of patriotism, bravery, romance and family values. There are 60 performers in the Nanjing Municipal Beijing Opera Troupe, including a few of the most critically acclaimed artists in their field. The company’s director, Chang Tsiantsin, is an actor, dramatist and composer, who specializes in what are known as sheng roles, such as that of a young man, a warrior and an old man. Tsiantsin also composed one of the troupe’s greatest hits, «The Wolf Who Could Wag his Tail.» Li Jie, the troupe’s leading actress, who specializes in qing yi roles (the virtuous young maiden), is known for her feather-light interpretations. At the Herod Atticus Theater, the Nanjing Municipal Beijing Opera Troupe will present excerpts from celebrated Chinese works, including «The Heavenly Maiden Scattering Flowers,» highlighting the beauty of traditional Chinese song and dance and «The Monkey King’s Havoc in the Dragon Palace,» a war piece of extraordinary detail. Tickets can be purchased at the Hellenic Festival box office, 39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.928.2900, and the Herod Atticus Theater.

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