Contact: Yvonne French (202) 707-9191
October 21, 1997
Library of Congress Celebrates Cantonese Opera Tradition
WHO: Nora Yeh, Library of Congress archivist and ethnomusicologist
WHAT: Slide lecture on the Cantonese opera tradition, with performances by members of Sing Ping Music Association
WHEN: 12 to 1:30 p.m., Monday, November 3
WHERE: Mumford Room of the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. SE
WHY: To celebrate the opening of the Asian Reading Room
BACKGROUND: In this presentation the audience will be treated to live music, slides of colorful costumes, and information about the importance of this theatrical tradition, a gateway to understanding the Chinese culture.
Cantonese opera originated in the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644), beginning under the reign of the emperor Jiajing (A.D. 1522-64) and developed through the centuries. Formerly, the music was almost identical to older and more established operatic types, but since the beginning of this century it has become a blend of conventional patterns and fragments from Cantonese folk melodies, popular songs, modern Cantonese instrumental compositions and even Western tunes.
The background stories are based on a wide range of subjects, including romantic encounters, historical events, fictionalized episodes, ghost stores, patriotic happenings, moral teachings, famous classics, pseudo-religious tales and heroic epics. Beyond entertainment, the operas educate people about many facets and levels of the Chinese language, belief system, society, arts and history. Cantonese opera costumes provide socio-historical contexts and are designed for symbolic and aesthetic effect.
Six distinct roles make up the entire cast: (1) wen wu sheng or young fighting general; (2) xiao sheng or young scholar; (3) hua dan or young female; (4) er hua or supporting female; (5) chou sheng or clown; and (6) wu sheng or acrobatic performer.
The instruments are divided into melodic and percussive types. The stringed melodic instruments include fiddles, lutes and a table zither called yang qin. The melodic wind instruments include double-reed da di and side-blown flute. The leader conducts with wooden blocks and drums. Other percussion includes gongs and cymbals.
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