Development of Cantonese Opera - part one

As I already stated Cantonese Opera can be characterized as well with its readiness to adopt different elements in the repertoire. I think one could see it as a form of artistic expression as well as an adaption to social circumstances. There are certainly different influences from internal developments of artists as well as external influences like politics, economic and social developments as well as changing audiences and changing values of the entertainment industry.

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Cantonese Opera is a theatrical form that engulfed all Cantonese speaking regions even as it used “Guilin mandarin” in the early stages. The music heavily borrowed from Waijang troupes using styles of Bangzi and Erhuang enriching it with Guangdong songs and instrumental music forms. Early Cantonese Opera artists used the southern boxing style in their martial art adaptions.

As names of this style of opera are concerned the title of Cantonese Opera can be found beginning in the late 19th century but the history of this theatre style can be traced back much farther to the Jiajing reign period (1522 – 1566) of the Ming Dynasty. At this time it was to my knowledge called Waijiang Opera and scholars have found that they already had integrated Cantonese phrases in their lyrics. It is believed that Foshan in Guangdong province had been the centre of Cantonese Opera at this time.

The other well known troupes called Bendi where not established as much in the cities but along the Pearl River in boats and smaller villages. During Ming and the following Qing dynasty this two forms mixed and interacted more closely. Economy at that time had been started to thrive and performances at festivals, celebrations and religious activities where the main reason for the good development of Cantonese Opera.

Going back in history of Cantonese Opera you reach the timeframe of 1849 to 1864 with the Taiping Rebellion. At this time the court of China banned all performances of Cantonese Opera due to the fact that some of the ators had been found guilty in actively participating in the Rebellion. Actors and Cantonese Opera survived in participating in other theatres especially in Bejing troupes but a lot of information got lost in this time.

Luckily some information could be regained as it had been described in some local gazettes and some of the actors passed their knowledge from teacher to student. This gloomy period ended in the Tongshi reign.

But enough of old times – more will follow later.

There will be up and downs in the upcoming history as in every form of art and even nowadays has been some downsides and some better times as well. Just now is a time for Cantonese Opera to be recognized much more and apart from the Hong Kong Government there are Organisations like “The Cantonese Advancement  Association Ltd., Shatin” which has been founded three years ago and helps in further developing Cantonese Opera and especially supporting young children and groups to get a better knowledge of this old and historical founded Chinese art form.

They gave me a chance to have a look behind the scene getting the painted faces done as well as offering a possibility to see and document a great performance in March this year. I like to share some of the images I took at this opportunity.

All images taken by courtesy of Cantonese Opera Advancement Association

All images taken by courtesy of Cantonese Opera Advancement Association