A Night at the Beijing Opera

The topic of conversation at dinner seemed to be how far we’d walked today. We were certainly getting our exercise and you had to be prepared to do a lot of walking! We figured that it was at least 10 km (6 miles) and the day wasn’t over yet. Our last activity was a visit to the Peking Opera at Beijing’s Liyuan Theatre.

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It was a melodramatic hour long show that reminded me of the old black-and-white movies that had music setting the mood for whatever was happening on stage. In this one there were four very colourfully dressed actors in three scenes.

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The first kung fu style scene, called The Crossroads, involved three men, one who was on his way to exile for killing a wicked government official, his friend who had secretly followed him to protect him, and the owner of the guest house where the action occurs. The owner thought the friend was trying to kill the exiled man and they fought until the exiled man cleared up the misunderstanding. This all happened in the “dark of the night” with no dialog or music. It was really quite amazing to watch the athleticism of these three actors. This was my favourite of the three scenes.

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The second scene, Drunken Beauty, was about a concubine who was left waiting by her emperor … he never did show up, deciding to visit one of his many others. We never really could figure out if the actor was male or female, but she had a very high and piercing voice, something that we North Americans are not used to hearing. It was almost a mix between speech and song, and was done in a sliding scale, not the half-tone intervals that we use.

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The last scene was called Farewell My Concubine. The woman, played by the same actor as the drunken beauty, was with her king when he was tricked into believing that he had been beaten in a war. She didn’t want to be a burden to him, so committed suicide.

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It was certainly a new adventure and an interesting experience for all of us. After another long day out and about Beijing, we all appreciated the comfortable beds back at the hotel!

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