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Yue Opera

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In the history of world culture, ancient Greek drama, ancient Indian Sanskrit drama and Chinese traditional opera are called as the three major ancient drama styles in the world. However, the first two had become the relics of history, only Chinese traditional opera is still active in the land where it was born.
Chinese traditional opera is the broad and generic term of at least three hundreds of local operas in China. Peking opera born in the Qing Dynasty has been honored to be the “national opera” which can embody the characteristics of Chinese traditional operas and the culture. Besides Peking opera, Yue opera is the prominent one among over 300 local operas.
But relatively speaking, Yue opera is a young opera in the big family of local operas in our country. It appeared on the stage in 1906, and only has the history of 100 years up to now. The year of 2006 was the centennial of Yue opera birthday. Yue opera’s development goes through several stages:

Ⅰ. the Origin and Formation of Yue Opera (in the late nineteen century)


Yue opera originated in Sheng County (now called Shengzhou City), Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province, a territory of Yue state in the ancient times. Sheng County is near the East China Sea. It has a beautiful geographic environment, having mountains and waters, mountains around the water, the water surround mountains. Farmers here not only plant rice and tea, but also plant the mulberry to raise silkworms (silk is the raw material for silk fabric production). The ancient people praised the natural landscape of Sheng County by saying that “In the southeast, Yue state is the best scenery; but in Yue sate, Shan is the best”.
Beautiful landscape and rich natural resources attracted large numbers of scholars and celebrities to settle down here or visit here. “the Sage in Handwriting” loved the scenery of Shan, he lived here in his later years and died. Additionally, judging from the poems written by over 2200 poets in the Tang Dynasty, at least 300 poets had travelled here and written lots of poems. Some people say that this is a road of Tang poems. Poet Li Bai visited Zhejiang four times, and came to Sheng County three times. Du Pu, Bai Juyi and other great poets all travelled here. These not only make Sheng County full of poetic charms, but also increase more cultural accumulation.
In the east of Sheng county, there has Yuyao Tanhuang(Yao opera); in the south, there has Xinchang tone; in the west, there has Dongyang Wu opera; in the north, there has Shaoxing Luantan(Shao opera)…… All these things make Sheng county surrounded by the strong traditional opera culture.
The poetic and beautiful scenery makes the lyric and graceful art come into existence. Due to the mutual effect taken by different cultures, a new art form---“Chinese Folk Rap” appeared in Shan Town, Sheng County.
“Chinese Folk Rap” is a kind of rap, farmers sing it for amusement when they have a rest in the farms or enjoy the cool in the summer night. In the early period of Emperor Daoguang to the later year of Xianfeng in Qing dynasty, Sheng County suffered a serious natural disaster. In order to make ends meet, farmers had to go out and perform “the folk rap” for the survival. At that time, the art was performed only by one person, called “Dan Dang”.Nearly in 1902, the artists made performance in tea house, which made the rap art have a qualitative change: first, in the form, the art developed from “Dan Dang” to “Shuang Dang”; second, in the content, the artists started to perform some long drama; third, in the vocal style, according to the characters of different roles, the artists make different sounds by using small mouth, throat and large throat to distinguish the roles of Sheng, Dan, Jing, Mo, Chou, men and women, old and young to perform more vividly for the audience; fourth, in the performance, the artists increased more movements in the show. All this is to prepare for the change from the rap art to the traditional opera.
Early in 1906, the rap artists performing outside started to play roles as traditional opera did and made the trial performance on the stage. Before the Tomb-sweeping Day, the rap artists returned home. Strongly requested by the villagers, people built the stage with the wood plate used to make the rice barrels in front of Xianghuo Hall, Dongwang Village, Sheng County on March 27, 1906 (Lunar March 3rd, 32 years ruled by Emperor Guangxu), Gao Binhuo, Li Shiquan and other artists of the southern school performed on the stage. They played “Ten Things” in the daytime, and “Double Golden Flowers” in the night. The artists wore the costumes to play the roles, the vivid performance was fully affirmed by the villagers. “The folk rap” turned to be the opera successfully. The first performing group came into being from the original form.

Ⅱ,the Rise of Yue Opera’s Male Performing Group (in early twentieth century)


  Though “the folk rap” was an opera, no musical instrument was played, and no drum was beat. The only instruments were Du drum and the plate. Due to the sound and folk tone, the local people called the group as “Xiao Du Group” and “Xiao Ge Group”.
Since thel first Xiao Ge Group was established in Dongwang Village, the rap actists in each place started to follow the suit and organize the opera troupe. By the end of 1907, Sheng county had set up 13 Xiao Ge groups, so Yue opera entered the early period of having male performers. In 1908, Xiao Ge groups made performance in Shaoxing, Ningbo and other places, and performed in Hangzhou in 1910. On May 3, 1917, one group got its first show in Shanghai, and other group also performed the plays in Shanghai in June of the same year, but these two attempts ended in failure. For this reason, the artists started to think of their own future and improve the performance quality:

1:In the aspect of plays, expand the range of contents. Play the family drama “Dragon and Phoenix Locks”, “Baihua Pavilion”, “When Plum Blooms Again” and other dramas;

2:In the aspect of roles, take efforts to develop Xiao Dan, Xiao Chou to various roles including Xiao Sheng, Xiao Dan, Xiao Chou and Lao Sheng.

3:In the aspect of music and vocal style, set “Lingxia Tone” as the core, and create “Shizi Tone”, “Crying Tone” etc. The types of tempo consist of slow tempo, medium tempo and fast tempo. To the music, change the simple sound by using drum and silk string. The first band in the history of Yue opera was organized

4:In the aspect of performing, learn the performing styles and skills from Shaoxing Large Group;

5:Learn how to make up and how to make props
In April, 1918, the male performing group made performance in Shanghai for six months. Since the first lunar month of 1919, the group were highly welcomed by the audience when entering the Shanghai Bund. Since Yue opera took root in Shanghai, the male performing group reached the peak of performance. The group made the advertisement on the name of "Shaoxing Civil Play" to distinguish with "Shaoxing Da Ban". The artists improved the plays not only in music but also in drama. They arranged the plays such as "the Butterfly Lovers", "Jade Hairpin" and "Meng Lijun", making the foundation for developing the romantic plays by its own unique styles.

Ⅲ、 The Rise of Yue Opera’s Female Performing Group (in 1920's)


1920's was the time for the rise of Yue opera's female performing groups. In the spring of 1923, Wang Jinshui,a boss from Sheng county watched the show in Shanghai. Inspired by the popularity of the performance, he decided to return home and recruit young women to learn Shaoxing Civil Play. When he came back, he started to open the women performing class in Shi Jia Ao, the girls aged from 10 to 15 years old. After careful selection, Shi Yinhua, Zhao Ruihua and other 20 girls enrolled in it, the oldest 13 years old, the youngest nine years old.On July 9, 1923, the class was opened officially, this is the first female performing class in the history of Chinese Yue opera. After several months of study, Shi jia Ao female class made performance in the big world nearby the west lake, Hangzhou in that year. In January of next year, due to no adequate audience, the female class had to return to Sheng County after three or four months of performance. Back to the home town, the female class was allowed to play the show on the stage at the ancestral hall for the performers' soft and tender dialect. All neighbours and friends came for the show, this treatment was quilt different from the cold acceptance in Shanghai and Hangzhou, the troupe's owner can see the hope in despair. From this autumn, the female class followed the route that the male class had taken, and started the tour performance for a long time. The successful operation of Shi Jia Ao female class made Yue opera female classes boom in Sheng County. In the 1920's and 1930's,female classes were very popular in Sheng County, Xinchang and other places, and this becomes the key stage in Yue opera's development. According to the survey in 1935, Sheng County had more than 20000 actresses and hundreds of performing troupes.At that time, it was said that "young farmer can not have a wife". Though the word may be exaggerated, it was approved that Shaoxing Civil Play acted by female performers would reach the peak in Sheng County.
Male classes was replaced by female classes, Yue opera entered the period of Women's "Shaoxing Civil Play". In this period, the outstanding class included: "Qunying Fengwu Stage" established in 1930, Yao Shuijuan "the Queen of Yue opera" came from the class; "Big China Stage" in 1931; "Sijichun Class" in 1933. The early famous "Dan Jue" performers Shi Yinhua, Zhao Ruihua and Wang Xinhua were called "Three Hua" in the folk, followed by Yao Shuijuan. Their artistic achievements had a great influence on the later Yue opera performers.
In the 1930's, while female Yue opera developed rapidly in Zhejiang, it also spread in Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Fujian and other provinces.
After the anti-Japanese war broke out, Yao Shuijuan performed in the concession of Shanghai.In order to let Yue opera take root in the big city Shanghai, Yao Shuijuan reformed the opera bravely and took efforts to upgrade the taste of Yue opera. She firstly invited Fan Dimin the resident journalist of "Ta Kung Pao" to be the director. The first was the adapted "Hua Mulan". For the awareness against the Japanese aggression and the propaganda of national protection, this drama received a huge response after the show. In Jan. to Sept. 1938(May and June excluded), Yao Shuijuan performed 118 plays, and designed contemporary plays to expand the range of Yue opera dramas. She also learned the stage design from the civilization art. Yao Shuijuan played a very important role in Yue opera’s innovation. Since July, 1938, female Shaoxing Civil Play was renamed as “Yue opera”.

Ⅳ、Yue Opera is Getting Mature (in 1940’s)


 

1.Yuan Xuefen carried out the reform in Yue opera

    
In 1940’s, to cope with the crisis in Yue opera, Yuan Xuefen raised the flag of new Yue opera and advocated the reform in Yue opera. When she watched the stage plays created and performed by aggressive stage play workers, such as “An Ode to Integrity”, “the Spirit of Party Members”, she was very excited at the noble spirit of sacrificing oneself to the nation. She decided to invite playwrights, directors, stage designers to reform Yue opera, and firstly set up the stage management department centralized on writing plays, directing and stage design as the stage play did. In October, 1942, Yue Xuefen broke the traditional convention on Yue opera, and made the public show “the injustice in the ancient temple” in Dalai theater, Shanghai. From then on, Yue opera entered a new stage towards comprehensive development. The second play after the reform was “Hatred in Lovers”; the third was “Heartbroken People”, this play adapted the complete script, the script system was formally implemented instead of the traditional performing system. In May, 1946, Yue Xuefen moved “Xianglinshao” adopted from “Blessing” written by Lu Xun into the stage. The play had been performed twice at day and night each day for three weeks, which was honored to be the new milestone of Yue opera. From Oct.to Apr. 1946, Yue Xuefen played 59 new dramas with her collaborators. She named the reformed Yue opera as “New Yue Opera”. The characteristics of New Yue Opera are as follows:
First: New plays. The plays abandoned the old stories “marry privately without the parents’ permission at the back garden”, or “the gentleman in trouble finally becomes the top one in the imperial examination”, and developed a new field to make more stories for Yue opera.
Second: New ways to presentation. Makeup, costumes, lighting, setting, sound all broke the tradition model of the old opera. The vocal style was changed to be Chidiao Tone.
Third: New rehearsal and groups. The new opera set up the stage management department consisting of playwrights and directors, responsible for the creation and performance, and established the formal rehearsing system, so Yue opera can be a comprehensive stage art and the first opera having the play writing and directing system among over 300 local operas in our country.

2. Yin Guifang carried out the reform in Yue opera

    
Following Yuan Xuefen, Yin Guifang was the first performer raising the flag of new Yue opera. In addition to designing and performing contemporary plays and historical plays and focusing on adapting and refining traditional plays, taking a new route of setting female Xiaosheng as the main roles in Yue opera performing styles was quite noticeable in her reform. In the past, on the Yue opera’s stage, Huadan was basically the center of the stage. Though Tu Xinhua and Zhu Su’e were the famous Xiaosheng performers partnering with Shi Yinhua and Yao Shuijuan, after all, they were the performers playing up to the Huadan. Therefore, in 1930’s and prior to the period, Huadan was in the dominant position in the performing circle. In late 1930’s, Ma Zhanghua’s appearance changed the main cast headed by Yuan Xuefen to Ma Zhanghua and Yuan Xuefen in Dalai Theater, which started the history of setting Xiaosheng as the center of the stage. However, this didn’t dominate the stage. Ma Zhanghua vanished in a flash like the lightning disappearing in the sky.
As the old Yue opera was changing to the new one, Yue opera’s female Xiaosheng became the main characteristic aesthetically for the unique charm. The pioneer of setting female Xiaosheng as the pillar backbone is Yin Guifang. Yin Guifang had beautiful appearance, good figure, graceful performance and delicate disposition, she was the ideal female Xiaosheng in the audience’s heart and very welcomed. Even someone said that Yin Guifang was more handsome than good-looking man. The artistic style created by Yin Guifang added more charms to female Xiaosheng of Yue opera. He Wenxiu, Jia Baoyu, Liang Yushu, the prince of the desert, the rounder and other roles played by her never lost their appeals.

3. Ten sisters made the charity performance of “the Love to the Country”

On April 29, 1946, a group of famous performers in Shanghai Yue opera circle signed the contract in Atlantic Ocean Western Cuisine Agency on purpose of raising the money to build Yue opera theater and run a Yue opera school. Yuan Xuefen asks her friends to attend the charity performance. The performers included:
Yin Guifang, Xu Yulan, Zhu Shuizhao, Xiao Dangui, Yuan Xuefen, Zhang Guifeng, Wu Xiaolou, Fu Quanxiang, Xu Tianhong and Fan Ruijuan.These ten are known as “Ten Sisters of Yue Opera”The play “the Love to the Country” is adapted from the French novel "The Three Musketeers" and Chinese novel “Records of the States of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty”, the background changed to Chinese Eastern Zhou Dynasty. On the afternoon of Aug. 19, 1947, the play got its first show, which made a sensation in Shanghai Bund. Every day, at the gate of the theater were full of people. Each show got the warm atmosphere and received torrential applause. Hundreds of articles were published in newspapers. The show finished till Sept. 12. The performance of “the Love to the Country” made the sisters unite together.Yue Xuefen, Yin Guifang and other people’s reform in Yue opera bring a great impact in Yue opera circle and help Yue opera embark on her road to maturity.

Ⅴ、The Development of Contemporary Yue Opera (From 1950’s to present)
 

Yue opera in 1950’s to 1960’s

Since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, under the leadership and concerns of Chinese Communist Party and people’s government, with the development of the cause of socialist construction, Yue opera entered into the golden stage of prosperity.

1. Yue opera troupes developed nationwide. Before and after 1950, the foundation of East China Yue Opera Experimental Theater (the predecessor of Shanghai Yue Opera Theater) and Zhejiang Yue Opera Troupe set good examples to the whole traditional opera community. Meanwhile, lots of Yue opera troupe from Shanghai and Zhejiang settled down all over the country. Till 1965, the total of Yue opera troupes in the country reached 175. There had 76 Yue opera troupes in Zhejiang province. Above two thirds of provinces in the country had Yue opera troupes.

2. More Yue opera plays were created. Hundreds of excellent traditional plays reappeared on the stage after the modification, such as “the Butterfly Lovers”, “The Story of White Snake”, “The Romance of West Chamber”, “Inquiring Husband and Regaining Husband” etc. At the same time, a group of traditional plays and modern plays were created, including “A Dream in Red Mansions”, “Chasing Fish”, “Yan Zhi”, “Peacock Flying to Southeast”, “Xie Yaohuan”, “Xianglinsao” and so on. Many plays had been made into movies. Specially, “A Dream in Red Mansions” was shown for 180000 times in Zhejiang within 10 years, 160 million audiences watched it, which made Yue opera more popular.

3. The maturity in the vocal styles in Yue opera schools. The vocal style was the symbol of the maturity. Since 1920’s and 1930’s, after the practices for a long time, Yue opera performers created new styles and formed their own distinctive singing styles based on the singing styles succeeded from older artists. Since 1950’s, the relatively influential schools mainly included: Yuan School, Fan School, Fu School, Yin School, Xu School, Qi School, Wang School, Zhang School, Jin School and others. The singing styles of different schools made the music various, accelerated the spread and popularity of Yue opera, and highly promoted the development.

The Development of Yue Opera (Since 1980's)


1. The Development of Zhejiang Xiaobaihua Yue Opera Troupe

After the "Cultural Revolution", highly concerned by the party and the government, Yue opera recovered quickly. In 1981, the country resumed more than 130 Yue opera troupes. During this period, the Yue opera troupes of Shanghai and other provinces got less influence on Yue opera, but Zhejiang's troupes had the advantages on not only the numbers and talent resources, but also the quality. Zhejiang Xiaobaihua Yue Opera Troupe was the most influential representative.
In the revitalization of Yue opera, Zhejiang as the birthplace of Yue opera did a lot of work, specially paying more attention to cultivating young performers. In autumn, 1982, The provincial traditional opera Xiaobaihua joint performance was held. In over hundreds of plays, above two thirds of them were acted by Young performers, some received "excellent Xiaobaihua award" and "Xiaobaihua award". These new performers shed the light on Yue opera and made a good foundation for establishing Zhejiang Xiaobaihu Yue Opera Troupe.
Shortly after Xiaobaihua Joint Performance, Zhejiang Provincial Government, by taking the great chance of organizing Zhejiang Yue Opera performers to make performance in Hong Kong, selected 40 excellent performers from over 60 Yue opera troupe to open Zhejiang Yue Opera Xiaobaihua Training Classby and started the intensive training in the provincial art school.Finally, 26 outstanding young performers was organized to be Zhejiang provincial Yue opera Xiaobaihua performing group to make the show in Hong Kong, the group made the rehearsal of "Birthday Celebration by Five Daughters", "Malice in the Han Palace" and other dramas. The show in Hong Kong in autumn, 1983 was widely welcomed by Hong Kong audience. "A nobody makes great sensation" spread wide. In May, 1984, Zhejiang Xiaobaihua Yue Opera Troupe was founded officially. In later years, "Xiaobaihua" left the footprint in all big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou an Wuhan. The troupe performed in over 10 countries and regions such as America, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore, and always caused the sensation in the places.

2. The Meaning of "Xiaobaihua"

"Xiaobaihua" stands for a new generation, the future of Yue opera, which indicates the new spring of Yue opera. "Xiaobaihua" is the sign and symbol having the common meaning. The significant meaning of "Xiaobaihua" is the historical breakthrough of realizing the center of Yue opera to Zhejiang. When Xiaobaihua got its first show in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong media said, "Yue opera was born in Zhejiang, but developed in Shanghai. Nearly all of the famous performers settled down in Shanghai, Nearly all of the schools and the representative pieces were made in Shanghai, this situation existing from 1940's to 1980's was broken up by Zhejiang Yue Opera Xiaobaihua Performing Troupe." This historical breakthrough lasts till the 21st century and keeps a good momentum. So far, only "the Romance of West Chamber" of Xiaobaihua Yue Opera won the national Wenhua Grand Award in Yue opera dramas, Only "Lu You and Tang Wan" of Xiaobaihua was listed in the Top 10 dramas of the national stage art project, Only Mao Weitao of Xiaobaihua Troupe won the Plum Award for three times in Yue opera circle. Xiaobaihua creates the unique beauty for Yue opera, the artistic style has become the good example for all Yue opera troupes and other traditional troupes to follow.

3. Mao Weitao is an outstanding representative Yue opera young performer, a flag of contemporary new Yue opera.
  
Since 1980's, many outstanding young performers stand out in Yue opera circle. However, among large numbers of troupes, Zhejiang Xiaobaihua Yue Opera Troupe became the most influential representative in this period. Mao Weitao is the outstanding Yue opera performer in the new stage. In the Wenhua Award selecting activity of the Ministry of Culture, Mao Weitao won Wenhua Performing Award for four times. In Plum Award selecting activity held by Chinese Dramatists Association, she received the Plum Grand Award for three times. Mao Weitao is the only person who won these two awards in the national Yue opera circle, even in local traditional opera circle. She has successfully created many art images on Yue opera stage. Specially since 1990's, from "the Romance of West Chamber" and "Lu You and Tang Wan" to the new version of "the Butterfly Lovers", Wao Weitao as the leading actress and the head of the troupe devotes herself to upgrading the artistic taste of Yue opera, making it into new culture and entering the new times. To this upgrade, the troupe creates new characters to enrich the cultural connotation of Yue opera by re-interpreting traditional plays and expending new plays, and makes the art form diversified and poetic through deepening the integration.
Mao Weitao persists in dominate the market by integrating arts and takes efforts to have the dialectical unity of "review inside and expand outside". Reviewing inside means to further succeed and develop the esthetics of traditional opera; Expanding outside means to use all kinds of new technology for the development. Thanks to the pursuit in the art, "the Romance of West Chamber" and "the Butterfly Lovers" acted by Mao Weitao make you feel more traditional and fashionable, or more classic and modern, in comparison with the former dramas.
Of course, Mao Weitao's success is not due to her own devotion, behind her, the team formed by Gu Xidong, Yang Xiaoqing, Guo Xianan, Hu Mengqiao and the cultural and economic strength of the province support her. But she is the core and main force.Every success can reflect the wonderfulness of her life. She is the outstanding successor to the innovative spirit of Yuan Xuefeng, and the flag in the construction of contemporary new Yue opera.

Chinese Yue opera walks toward the world

After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, the cultural exchange between China and foreign countries reached the peak. Yue opera was the first opera opening to the world among hundreds of local traditional operas.
In July to September, 1955, with the invitation of Germany and the former Soviet Union, China Yue Opera Troupe headed by the director Xu Guangping, the wife of Lu Xun, performed the plays "the Butterfly Lovers" and "the Romance of West Chamber", widely welcomed in these countries. Every time, after the show, the performers acknowledged the applause with an average of 10 times or more, the maximum up to 28 times. Yue opera was warmly welcomed. In 1950's and 1960's, Yue opera troupe went to North Korea and Vietnam for the performance, and also received a wide welcome.
Since the reform and opening up, Chinese Yue Opera artists have made performance in tens of countries and regions in Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania. Chinese Yue opera art acts like an invisible bridge to promote the friendship between countries and develop the Chinese civilization. Zhejiang Xiaobaihua Yue Opera Troupe has been to over tens of countries and regions for the performance such as France, Japan, Thailand, America, South Korea and Singapore. Wherever it goes, it can cause a great sensation.
Yue opera has already gone through a hundred years.The adversity it experienced and the achievement it made in a hundreds of years make Yue opera grow to be the wonderful flower in the garden of Chinese traditional operas. To prospect the future, Yue opera, an art treasure, will flourish further and be more popular among people.