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Beijing Opera vs. Traditional Western Opera Thesis


Why the Topic is Interesting

The topic is interesting because opera is an entertaining form of art. It has been around for centuries. The amusing aspect of this form of art is influenced by its broadness in terms of presentation and performance. The art brings together musicians and other performing artists in dramatic works. It achieves this by integrating text and musical scores in a theatrical setting..1 Luciano notes that opera is a part of the western conventional music custom. Initially, the artists performing this art did two forms of singing. The modes include recitative and arias. The first type of singing involves the adoption of a speech-inflected style. On its part, Arias is characterized by the use of more melodies. Over the years, opera has advanced to incorporate more presentations and styles. The current model of performance integrates different aspects of art, such as scenery, dance, acting, and costume..2

The Link between Beijing and Western Opera

The two forms of opera affect each other. Since the advent of music traditions in Italy in the 16th century, opera has gained extensive popularity all over the world. Due to this, there was the emergence of different opera groups. They include, among others, the Beijing opera. The Traditional Western and Beijing operas are artworks from two varying worlds. They represent different cultures and heritages. For example, the Beijing opera reflects the culture of the nation. It is also referred to as the Peking opera. On its part, the Conventional opera embodies the western style of music. The art was common in the 1800s and 1900s.3 Even though the two forms of art represent different cultures, they share a wide range of similarities. For instance, to develop and grow, both Western and Beijing operas borrow some aspects from each other. One of the elements entails the singing techniques.

In this paper, the author will provide a comparative analysis of Beijing and Traditional Western opera. The rest of the paper is structured as follows: Chapter two highlights the origins and development of the two operas, Chapter three is an analysis of the similarities and differences between the two, while Chapter four will entail an analysis of the potential consistencies between the two opera. The last section is a conclusion and summary of the whole paper.

The Origins and Development of Beijing and Traditional Western Operas

The Origin of Beijing Opera

Beijing or Peking opera is a traditional Chinese form of art. It has its origins in the 18th century. Kuo-lin thinks that the opera emerged in 1790. It came into being as a result of the Four Great Anhui Troupes. The performers brought Huiju to the country to commemorate the 80th birthday of Qianlong’s Emperor. At the time, the performance was done for the court. However, the presentation started welcoming public audience in the following years. Even though the art is referred to as Beijing opera, its roots can be traced back to Southern Anhui and Eastern Hubei. The two areas share the language of Xiajiang Mandarin..4

The form of opera uses two primary melodies. They include Erhuang and Xipi. The pieces of music were borrowed from Han opera after the 1750s. In light of this, it is noted that the singing of Beijing opera is often identical to that of Han opera. According to Siu and Lovrick, this is the reason why Han opera is considered to be the mother of Beijing or Peking opera.5

The two primary melodies, Xipi and Erhuang, were made of several patterns. The blueprints include original, guiding, slow, quick, and desultory patterns. The combination of the two pieces of singing was referred to as Pi Huang..6

However, the name changed to Jingju or Jingxi as the art gained popularity in subsequent years. Xipi was the second type of performance. It represented a puppet show. It traces its origins to the Shaanxi Province. The shows were accompanied by a lot of singing, dialogue, and dancing. The main instruments used to produce the tunes were Jinghu, Yueqin, Sanxian, Suona, and Flute drum. Each of the tools has its distinct features. For instance, the Jinghu is a two-stringed bowed instrument with a high note. Sanxian is a three-stringed plunked instrument. Yueqin is a four-stringed tool with a full moon-shaped soundbox.

The conversing was done in an archaic style of Mandarin Chinese. Timm thinks that the Mandarin dialect is documented in Zhongyuan Yinyun.7 Also, the language is used in local Zhili musical art forms. Numerous literary works on the origin of Beijing opera reveal the fact that the Xipi style of music was borrowed from the historic Qinqiang..8 On its part, the performance facets, staging design, and aesthetics were derived from Kunqu. As a result, the Beijing opera is not monolithic. Scholars consider the art to be a coalescence of different traditional musical styles.

The picture below depicts a scene in a Beijing opera:

A scene in Beijing opera.
Figure 1: A scene in Beijing opera.

In the early days of the Beijing opera, only men were allowed to be performers.9 Female entertainers in Beijing had been banned by the Qianlong Emperor. However, in the 1870s, women defied the rules and started performing on stage.

The Development of Beijing Opera

Since its advent over 200 years ago, the Beijing opera has experienced major developments. Besides, the art has gained extensive popularity in the world. It has attracted a wide range of audiences from all over China and the entire globe. The initial origin of Beijing opera was in the late 18th century..10 However, the artfully developed in the 19th century. In the early era of its introduction, performances were only done in the Qing Dynasty Court. However, the opera started to be staged publicly in later years. Due to the widespread popularity of the work and its ability to express culture, the art was labeled as one of the cultural treasures of China.

The mode of performance and elements incorporated in Beijing opera have changed over time. Butcher notes that the current opera has experienced several advancements. In the early years of Peking opera introduction, Chou had a lot of singing..11 In the modern form, the performance entails minimal singing. Besides, the tunes that accompanied each play have been simplified over time. In the traditional performances, musical instruments were the primary tools used in presentation. In the modern era, new aspects, such as true acrobatics, have been integrated into the art.

The popularity and attraction of more audience occurred when Anhui troupes attained their highest level of excellence in the mid-19th Century. The group was invited to showcase its entertainment in the court of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. The kingdom was founded during the Taiping Rebellion. Empress Cixi was a big fan of this form of art. As a result, she helped the art attain a higher status in the society compared to earlier opera forms, such as Kunqu. Various reasons have been linked to the widespread popularity of Beijing opera. However, the main source of its recognition is its simplicity. It also makes use of a few voices. Also, it has a unique singing patterns.

Initially, the Beijing opera was performed by males. However, the art developed to be a work executed by both men and women. In the 1870s, females began aping male roles and demanded equality..12 Later, women performers were given a platform to showcase their talents. The female Peking opera Troupe staged its first commercial performance in 1894 in Shanghai. The move promoted the formation of more female opera groups. As a result, Beijing opera continued to gain popularity and attract a bigger audience than before.

Despite the numerous developments and widespread popularity in the 19th century, this form of opera encountered some problems. For example, it became less popular in the mid-20th century..13 The drop was associated with, among others, low-quality performances. Another reason was the failure to capture the modern way of life in the works of art. The 20th century witnessed extensive technological advancements. Efforts were made to ensure that a bigger audience understood the old Beijing opera language. For example, producers were required to apply electronic subtitles. The need to adopt new technology affected the development of the opera. Also, the Western culture and adverse Chinese political climate hampered the progression of the Beijing opera.

The Origin of Western Opera

Western opera originated in Italy at the end of the 16th century..14 However, women were initially not allowed to perform on stage. As a result, men were castrated to sing female roles. The art later spread to the rest of Europe. It found its way to nations like England, Germany, and France. Operas from these countries helped develop the national traditions in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Italian opera continued to be a dominant force in most European countries. The popularity of the opera attracted several well-known foreign writers and musicians, such as Handel. Lippman notes that opera seria was the most celebrated and popular form of Italian opera.

Since the advent of the first opera in Italy, numerous opera groups have been formed all over Europe. The emergence of these opera influenced major developments in art in the western world. In the early 19th century, Bel Canto was the most popular style. The era witnessed the creation of high quality works by such composers as Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. The compositions continued to be performed until the 2000s. According to Grout, the mid and late 19th century is considered to be the golden era of Western Opera.15

The picture below depicts a scene from a Western Opera performance:

A scene from a Western Opera.
Figure 2: A scene from a Western Opera.

The German-language opera, which is part of the western opera, originated in 1627. The first composition, which was called Die Dafne, was written by Heinrich Schutz.16 However, the work did not gain widespread popularity. The reason for this is that the Italian Opera works were more dominant in German-speaking countries at the time. Despite this influence, native opera went on to be composed in the later years. In 1644, for example, Sigmund Staden composed the most popular type of German-language opera named: singspiel. The performance of the opera entailed singing and the use of spoken dialogue.

The English Language opera, which forms part of the western opera, originated in the 17th century. One of them is Venus and Adonis. It is regarded as the original English opera. It was written by John Blow.

The French opera, which is another part of the western opera, originated in the 1600s. The production was formed by Jean-Baptiste Lully. He was an Italian. He created the performance within the precincts of King Louis XIV palace. Even though the composer was of Italian origin, he managed to set up a French Academy of Music. His efforts led to the monopolization of French opera in 1672. Lully’s works entailed the incorporation of dance music and choral writing.17 Also, the mode of presentation was aligned with the contours of the French language.

The Russian opera, which formed part of the traditional western opera, originated in the 1730s. The advent was brought about by the Italian Operatic Troupe’s visit to the nation. From that moment on, opera became an integral part of entertainment for the aristocracy and the Russian Imperial Court. Due to this, some producers relocated to Russia. The foreigners wrote new operas. One of them was Tsefa I Prokis. It was one of the earliest Russian compositions in 1755. It was created by Francesco Domenico Araja..18

The Development of Western Opera

Since the advent of opera in Italy at the end of the 16th century, western opera has undergone extensive developments. It has also attracted a huge audience base. Also, the form of art influenced other operas from the rest of the world. The initial western operas entailed the use of tonality..19 Advancement of the art form resulted in the development of atonality. The process of creating the new stylistic feature was pioneered by Richard Wagner and his Tristan Chord. Further developments to the harmony were made by other writers, such as Benjamin Britten, Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner, and Claude Debussy. The composers developed atonality through the intense use of dissonance and chromatics.

Another development of the western opera entailed moving away from the use of long suspended tunes to short quick mottos. The new style was first employed by Guiseppe Verdi in an opera titled Falstaff.20 From that moment on, other composers, such as Britten, Stravinsky, and Strauss, adopted the approach and further developed it. In 1911, the evolution of the western opera took another direction when Russian Igor Stravinsky started applying the neoclassical technique. The methodology was characterized by the absence of the serialist approach of composition. The shift from serialism acted as an inspiration to other composers, such as Mark Adamo.

In the 20th century, western opera experienced more developments and adjustments. The operas started being performed by a smaller number of artists. The major reason for this was the desire to reduce expenses by the composers. Besides, operas shifted away from the use of huge string sections and exotic percussion instruments, extra horns, and multiple harps..21

Another development of western opera was the advent of contemporary historical compositions. The new operas did not follow the traditional style of basing operas on myth, legend, distant history, and retelling of contemporary fictional stories.

The continuous performance and development of opera composition styles between the 16th and the 20th centuries has been influenced by the increasing popularity of the art. The stage performances provided exclusive entertainment and attracted audiences from different nations in the West.22 The first operas developed in Italy gained widespread recognition, leading to the emergence of other operas from all over the continent. To keep the audience entertained and ensure more recognition, composers strived to develop the art further. The advancements entailed the use of new performance and composition techniques. Also, new and more instruments were incorporated into the performances.

A Comparison between Beijing and Western Operas

The Cultural Aspects of the Distinctions

Different cultural background

Beijing and western operas come from two different cultural backgrounds. For instance, the Beijing opera is a form of art that represents the Chinese culture. To show the cultural diversity of the Chinese people, the opera uses a rich list of plays. The plays are based on Chinese traditions, troupes, and performers.23 As such, the opera can attract more audience and enlighten people about the different ethnic aspects of the society. Lim et al. note that Beijing opera is the primary opera in China. The reason for this is its ability to effectively present Chinese cultural facets for centuries.

Chinese and Western traditions vary in some aspects. The differences are portrayed in modes of dressing, beliefs, foods, and the way different functions, such as weddings, are conducted. Beijing opera, being from a Chinese cultural background, combines reading, dancing, acting, fighting, and singing. It also uses acting to represent characters and narrate stories based on their culture. Also, both male and female performers are decorated with facial make-ups..24 The variation in stylization helps audiences to distinguish the characters and better understand their roles. For example, the “Jing’s” faces are painted differently from those of the “chou’s”. Also, the colors used have distinct meanings. Red, for example, symbolizes loyalty. On its part, black signifies forthrightness.

The picture below depicts the make-up of Beijing opera performers:

Make-up of Beijing opera performers.
Figure 3: Make-up of Beijing opera performers.

Western operas are based on some cultural backgrounds. The reason for this is that the western opera is made of different ethnic and linguistic groups. According to Luciano, the western tradition is a term used to refer to a heritage of belief, social norms, political systems, and ethical values of European origin. Western operas are exemplified by various literary, artistic, philosophical, legal, and traditional themes. The themes vary from those used in Beijing opera. Some of the linguistic groups that shape the western opera are Roman, German, Greek, French, Jewish, Celtic, and Italy.25 However, the first forms of this art were based on Italy’s cultural background. The reason for this is that the western opera originated in Italy.

Barber is of the view that Italy is considered to be the mother of western civilization. Also, the nation is regarded as a cultural superpower in the world. The various facets of western opera originated in this country. The composition of the first operas was based on Italian philosophies, art, law, and social customs. As a result of the widespread popularity of the art, the plays were translated into other languages, such as French and German.

Different social systems

Beijing and western opera come from distinct social systems. The systems are capitalism and socialism. According to cannon, both western and Beijing operas originated from capitalist social systems. However, the modern Beijing opera falls under the socialist social systems. The change was brought about by political revolutions in China during the 1950s.26

Western opera was developed in Italy in the 16th Century. At the time, capitalism was already prevalent in the nation and most of the Western and North-Western Europe. According to historical literary works, the modern capitalist social system originated in the 14th century. The emergence of the system was precipitated by a demographic crisis. The predicament resulted from disputes between agricultural producers, land-owning aristocracy, and the serfs..27 From Italy, opera became a popular form of entertainment. It later spread to other countries, such as Germany and England. At the time, all these nations had capitalist social systems.

Beijing opera was developed at the end of the 18th century. According to historical scholars’ reports, capitalist social systems were present in China in the 16th century. They were evident during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Since its emergence, Beijing opera survived well in the capitalist social systems and experienced minimal change. The shift of socialist social systems was characterized by the ban of some traditional Beijing opera plays and the creation of new revolutionary art forms. The revolutionary operas were first performed in 1938. According to Lim et al. operas at the time were used as tools of political mobilization. Between the periods of 1966 and 1977, any dramatic works which lacked the Communist Party of China ideologies were viewed as subversive and banned.

Different Aesthetic Orientations of Beijing and Western Operas

Expression of the two operas on the stage: Similarities and differences

The two operas share some similarities. For example, they were performed on square stages. The public could watch the performers from three sides of the stage. When performing both art forms, curtains are hung over the platform. The primary reason for this is to divide the stage into two parts. In Beijing opera, the curtain is referred to as Shoujiu.28 In front of the curtains, there is often a table that has several instruments to be used for the play. In both the Beijing and western contexts, the table and performers of the art forms occupy a part of the façade of the stage and are visible to the audience.

Both Beijing and Western Operas’ stage performances entail a combination of a wide range of artistic styles. They include music, dance and vocal performance. There are also martial arts and other forms of stunts. In both contexts, dance in involves human movement that rhymes with the play’s music. According to Kuo-lin Beijing and western opera, performers wear different sets of costumes during stage performances..29

However, Beijing performers are more decorated. For example, the artists’ faces are painted with different colors. Besides, their dress codes represent different ethnical groups of China. Red face paintings symbolize devotion, loyalty, and courage. A performer whose face is entirely colored red symbolizes Guan Yu. The figure was a general during the period of the Three Kings. Black painted performers symbolize roughness and fierceness. The characters depicted by black colored actors are general Zhang Fei, Li Kui, and Bao Gong.30 Purple-faced actors signify sophistication and uprightness. On its part, blue represents staunchness. The use of colored face paintings to identify with ancient figures is more common in Beijing opera compared to western.

Both Beijing and western operas’ stage acts entail the use of musical instruments. However, each art form employs its set of different melodious tools. In Beijing opera, the most common musical instruments are Jinghu and Yueqin. Jinghu is a small high-pitched, two-striking fiddle..31 The artist is required to switch pitches based on changes in performance conditions. The Yueqin is a circular bodied plucked flute. The instrument is used alongside daluo, xiaoluo, and naobo. Coordination of the tools tunes is done by gu and ban players. On its part, instruments used in western opera stage acts include lute, hurdy-gurdy, and lyre. The hurdy-gurdy is a stringed musical tool that produces melodies by a crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. The lyre resembles a harp. However, it has distinct differences.

Both Beijing and western operas are expressed on stage using classical and modern standard languages. Also, both art forms use some slang terms to make the stage dialogue entertaining. Other similarities entail the use of different types of stage speech. Compared to western opera, Beijing uses only three primary styles. The approaches include monologues and dialogue, quotations, conventionalized stage speeches referred to as Chengshi naianbai. It is noted that prose speech adds humor to a scene. It is important to understand that monologues and dialogues are often short. According to Timm, they are expressed through the local Chinese dialect.32 During the initial years of Beijing opera development, prose speeches were widely used by the performers.

The second type of stage speech used in Beijing opera presentations is chengshi naianbai. The approach entails the use of precise speeches to mark imperative transition points. When a character enters the stage for the first time, an introduction speech referred to as (zi bao Jia men) is made. The vocalization comprises of a prelude elegy, set-the-scene poem, and a prose set-the-scene speech. Kuo-lin claims the constitution of each entrance dialogue is borrowed from the traditional Ming Dynasty, Yuan reign, folk, and regional forms of earlier Chinese operas.33

Another conventional dialogue used in Beijing opera stage presentation is exit speech. It is often a poem. It is followed by one vocalized line. There is also a last stage speech used in performance. According to historians, this is recapitulation. The feature was adopted from the zhenzixi tradition which entails performing one segment of a larger play.

The third type of stage speech used in Beijing opera presentations is quotations. The quotes are borrowed from classical Chinese poetry. According to Siu and Lovrick, most plays have a maximum of two excerptions..34 The utilization of classical poetry in stage presentations serves one major purpose. The goal is to intensify the impression created by a scene.

In both Beijing and western operas, each moment is precisely scripted. Performers snap to position, pause for a moment, move to the next position. The movements are often synchronized by the music. Cannon notes some scenes in both Beijing and western opera have little or no acting..35 The performers stand and deliver their lines. When one actor speaks, the others freeze. In western opera, the movement technique used is referred to as “blocked” or “staged”. As they act and sing, the performers are told where to move and go. Despite the scenes having little or no action, some characters may perform short martial arts fights. However, the martial arts scenes which entail fighting in gymnastic ballet combat are not present in western opera.

Specific Genres of Beijing and Western Opera

Genres of Beijing Opera

Since the advent of Beijing opera, many outstanding performers and composers have emerged. The actors and writers have played a key role in facilitating the art form of innovation and development. Due to this, numerous plays of different genres have been produced. Beijing opera genres include Zaju, Bianwen, Hebei bangzi, and Qinqiang.

Zaju Genre

Zaju is a form of Chinese drama that amuses a synthesis of recitations of poetry and prose, mime, singing, and dance. The plays often have comical effects or happy endings. Zaju traces its origin in the Song Dynasty. The genre of36dramas are linked to the Yuan Dynasty.

Zaju genre poetic music dramas are made of four acts. An act is described as a set of songs accompanying and completing specific harmonious modal progression. Several strategies are used to amplify the plot of the performance. They include, among others, short interludes. In each of the four acts, lyrics are composed to follow the set rhythmic patterns. Karlsson et al. claim the main singing parts in each act are performed by one-star actor..37 Zaju genre dramas have some specialized roles for artists. The characters include Dan (female), Hua (painted face), Sheng (male), and Chou (clown).

Zaju genre is believed to have been developed as a result of the integration of cultures over a long period. The different cultural and artistic aspects from varying customs helped to develop Zaju genre performances. A wide range of features are combined to create Zaju.

Famous authors Zaju genre plays are Guan Hanqing, Bo Renfu, and Wang Shifu. Popular dramas include The Injustice to Duo E, The Story of the Western Wing, and Circle of Chalk.

Bianwen genre

Bianwen genre plays are believed to be one of the earliest forms of vernacular and prosimetric narratives in Chinese literature. The literary forms are traced back to the periods of the Tang Dynasty (618 -9070 and Five Dynasties (907-960). Butcher notes the works were first discovered at Dunhuang in the early 20th century..38 The genre originated during the popularization of Buddhist dogma. The doctrines were presented through storytelling and the use of pictures. Later, the works were recorded in written formats. The new way in which the stories were told gave rise to secular storytelling. One of the poplar plays classified under the bainwen genre is Mulian Rescues His Mother.

The initial bainwen plays were written by anonymous authors. The composers were literate but not erudite members of the official class. Their compositions were meant to be performed by persons who could not read or write. According to Lim et al. the tales had diverse themes and played a key role in Chinese literary development.39

Hebei Bangzi

Hebei Bangzi is a genre from the northern province of Hebei. It originated from Shanxi bangzi and Qinqiang operas. The opera was introduced to Hebei during the middle of the Qing Dynasty. Over time, the literary form spread to other parts such as Beijing, Shandong, Jilin, Tianjin, and Henan. The genre is also found in Shangai, Wuhan, Liaoning, and Inner Mongolia plays. The majority of Hebei bangzi plays are performed in the Beijing language.

Some of the popular Hebei Bangzi plays include Stopping the Horse, The Lotus Lantern, and Meeting Enemy in the Hell.

The picture below shows Beijing opera artists performing Hebei Bangzi genre play:

A performance of Beijing opera’s Hebei Bangzi.
Figure 4: A performance of Beijing opera’s Hebei Bangzi.
Qinqiang genre

Qinqian is a Beijing opera genre that originated from the northwest province of Shaanxi China. Centuries ago, it was referred to as Qin. The melodies used in Qinqiang plays were derived from the rural areas of ancient Gansu and Shaanxi. Kuo-lin claims the genre uses bangzi as one of its musical instruments.40 Bangzi tune is considered to be one of the oldest and most fluent opera jingle in China’s Four Great Characteristic Melodies.

Despite the widespread popularity in Beijing, Qinqing was banned from performing in the region by Emperor Qianlong in 1785. The emperor claimed the genre was extremely sexually suggestive. However, the interdict made the genre more popular. Due to this, it spread to other parts outside of Beijing.

Qinqian genre plays have thirteen main characters. The actors include four Sheng, two Jing, one, Chou, and six Dan.

Genres of Western Opera

Western opera genres are not exclusive. Due to this, some plays can have several genres. Plaut notes western opera genres are not always classified by stylistic rules.41 Some like Zeitoper are defined based on their composers. Others like opera comique and opera bouffe are classified based on theaters.

In this section, the author will not use vague terms, such as love, comical, or sacred opera, to refer to genres of western opera. The genres will be referred to in their original tenures to avoid uncertainty. Western opera genres include Ballad opera, Genero chico, Opera Buffa, Romantische Oper, and Geistliche Oper.

Opera Buffa

Opera Buffa is an Italian comic opera genre. The art form was created by Jacques Offenbach in the 1850s. It was a parallel development to opera seria. According to Grout, the genre emerged as a result of the changes carried out on Zeno and Metastasio.42 Opera Buffa was developed for the ordinary citizens. It portrayed the form of life led by people in the lower socio-economic clusters. To ensure better understanding amongst the low-class people, the genre used local dialect and avoided employing high-flown language. Also, the characters used in the artwork were picked from the Italian commedia dell’arte.

Romantische Oper

It is a German Opera genre that emerged in the early nineteenth century. Butcher notes that it developed from the operas comiques of the French Revolution.43 Besides, the genre used terms that identified places, ideas, or persons. Some of the popular themes employed in Romantische Oper plays were nature, Middle Ages, supernatural, and popular culture. Notable composers of the plays under the genre include Louis Sphor, Albert Lortzing, and Carl Maria von Weber.

Ballad Opera

Ballad Opera is a genre of English stage entertainment which originated in the 18th century. Plays of this genus are often racy and use satirical spoken language. Also, they have one stanza song between the scenes. The songs are made short reduce disruptions and ensure the flow of the play. There are some popular and successful opuses from this genre. One of them is The Beggar’s Opera. The art was created in 1728..44 The play’s libretto was made by John Gay. On its part, the music was organized by Johann Christoph Pepusch.

The picture below depicts an 18th-century Ballad Opera called Flora:

A Flora.
Figure 5: A Flora.

According to Lee and Schoening drama works of ballad, genre featured characters of the lower class society.45 However, it was mostly enjoyed by people from the upper social classes in London. One distinct feature of ballad plays was the use of satirical music and dialogue. The dramas tunes were derived from different sources such as folk melodies, children nursery rhymes, and popular airs by conventional composers.

Geistiliche Oper

Geistiliche is a literary opera genre developed by a Russian composer, Anton Rubinstein. Artworks under the genus were characterized by the use of polyphonic choruses and sober edifying techniques. It utilized exalted declamation.46 There are several notable plays classified under the Geistiliche Oper genre. One of them is Das verlorene Paradise. It was created in 1856. Another one was Der Thurm zu Babel. Other works are Moses (1894) and Christus (1895). Voice types in the plays were based on the roles of the characters. A wide range of voices are used. They include soprano and tenor. Bass and baritone were also employed. Besides, some of the performers used contralto.

Genero chico

Genero chico is a Spanish genre of short dramas with musical effects. The genus is a main branch of Zarzuela. According to Grout Zarzuela originated during the reign of Philip IV (1605 – 1665).47 It is noted that Philip IV started to commission music-theatrical amusements on mythological themes combined with peasant songs and dance in the 1640s. The words used were from a popular writer called Calderon de la Barca. Also, Philip worked with a composer referred to as Juan de Hidalgo.

In the 1870s, the genre was incorporated in some compositions such as El Gorro Frigio by Miguel Nieto and Chateau Margaux by Fernandez Caballero. Genero chico genre dramas often have simple plots that barely hold up the play. Also, most of the themes are based on love.

Grand Opera

Grand Opera emerged in the 19th century. It is made of between five and four acts. It has a big number of casts and orchestras. Besides, the art form is characterized by lavish and unique designs and stage effects. According to Plaut, the plots of the Grand Opera were based on dramatic historic themes..48 Some of the notable plays classified under the genus are La muette de Portici (1828), Robert le diable (1831), and La Juive (1835). Other works are Les Huguenots (1836) and Patrie (1886).

Similarities and Differences between Beijing and Western Operas in Terms of Singing

Characteristics of Beijing opera’s singing technique

Music in Beijing opera is based on traditional codified tunes. The singing follows two sets of harmonies called xipi and erhuang. Xipi is usually used to display several emotions. They include anxiety and happiness. On its part, erhuang relays such feelings as sorrow and melancholy.

Vocalization in Beijing opera is classified in terms of roles. All characters have their mode of singing. For example, actors playing the role of laodan (elderly women) use a real voice. On their part, some of the artists use falsetto. According to Lim et al., an artist can play any character in Beijing opera provided he or she can master the singing technique of the role..49

Beijing opera has six primary types of song lyrics. The forms include narrative, dispute, emotive, and descriptive. The others are condemnatory and shared space separate sensations. Each of the lyrics is sung in employs the same singing technique. However, there are distinctions when portraying emotions. Beijing opera song lyrics are written in sonnets (lian) made of two lines (Ju).

Rhyming is an essential feature in Beijing opera songs. Wedde claims there are thirteen rhyme clusters..50 To bring out the assonance effect, performers use a speech tone singing technique of Mandarin Chinese. The method helps to relay the right emotion and meaning of the song. Beijing Opera singing techniques entail the use of four tones. The first and second tenors are called level or ping in Chinese.

Characteristics of Western Opera’s singing technique

Singing in western opera is divided into some fachs. They include bass and baritone. There is also soprano and alto. Finally, there is mezzo-soprano and tenor.51 The fact used for any given character is determined by the composer. Also, performers are grouped based on certain features. Such characterizations include strength and range of voice. Some of the singing techniques employed in western opera include chiaroscuro, del canto, extended vocal techniques.

An extended vocal technique is a singing method that produces different types of sounds. The model is characterized by some timbral techniques such as sprechgesang, vocal, tremolo, overtones, and undertones. Sprechgesang entails combining both speaking and singing. The aspect is one of the common features in western opera. Vocal tremolo involves rapid pulsing of air expelled from the singer’s lungs. Overtones are produced by manipulating the vocal cavity.52 On its part, are undertones are generated by effective control of vocal cords alterations.

Chiaroscuro is a western opera singing technique which originated in Italy. Performers using the mode incorporate a sound called squillo with a dark timbre known as scuro.

Differences between Beijing and Western Opera’s Breathing and Resonating

Western and Beijing operas’ performers exhibit numerous similar breathing and resonating techniques. However, there are several differences. In Chinese opera, breath and resonation are based on the abdominal area..53 Also, it is supported by abdominal muscles. Unlike in Western opera, Beijing performers make strong conceptualized breath to move melodic-passages. The principle is called Zhong qi xing Xiang. Breath is drawn up from the abdomen to the top of the head through a central inhalation cavity. Butcher claims performers of Beijing opera must control the cavity at all times.54

Compared to the western opera, Beijing opus performers use two primary techniques of breathing. The methods are exchanging breath (Huan qi) and stealing breath (tou qi). Huan qi is a slow means of exhaling old air and inhaling new. The technique is employed in moments when have a lot of time. Such instants include when another character is singing is only instruments are being played. Tou qi is a technique of breathing and resonating which entails sharp inhalation without exhalation. The method is employed when singing long verses where pauses are not required. According to Cannon, breath intake pauses during plays of songs should not be noticed by the audience.55

Characteristics of Beijing Opera’s Singing Pronunciation, timbre, and Tone Color

Beijing opera pronunciations are influenced by the shaping of mouth and throat. Each contour produces a different vowel sound. The opera has four primary mouth and throat formations. They make up four vowels. They also represent the 5 expressions of consonants. The five consonants associated with each vowel are produced by different parts of the mouth.56 Tongue produces “she”, lips (Chun), molars (chi), throat (hou), and front teeth (ya).

In Beijing opera, syllables written in the Chinese language have special pronunciations. The reason for this is because of the characters association with kunqu and regional forms. For example, 你 which means “you” is pronounced as “li” instead of “ni” in standard Chinese. The variation arises because the term is of Anhui language. 我 which means “I” is pronounced as “wo” in standard Chinese. However, pronunciation changes to “ngo” when said in Suzhou lingo.

In Beijing opera, timbre or tone color is characterized by roles in plays. Beijing opera has four primary characters. The four personalities are sheng, Dan, Jing, and Chou. Each character has a distinct tone color. For example, Sheng actors produce high, shrill tones with occasional breaks when singing..57

Characteristics of Western Opera’s Pronunciation, Timbre, and Tone Color

Western opera is made of opera from different nations. They include, among others, Italy, Germany, and France. As a result, the pronunciation of words varies from one nation to the other. For instance, the vocal characteristics of an English composition are different from that of a French composition. The vocal variations are as a result of the differences in the pronunciation of words in these languages. What this means is that there are variations in the timbre and color of the tone used in the different nations. For example, in Italy, most of the words used in plays and songs end in a vowel. According to Lippman, accent marks are used sparingly in Italian pronunciations.58

The ‘accentuations’ are reflected in the tone and timbre of operas composed in this language. Other characters, such as double consonants, take longer to pronounce compared to single ones. All these factors shape how words are said in the western opera of Italian origin. For instance, the sound of an opera that makes use of single consonants is different from that of a composition made up of double consonants.

In addition to pronunciations, the timbre and tone color of western opera is influenced by the musical instruments used by the performers. Each tool produces a different note and sound. The combination of the sounds of the instruments and the vocal characteristics of the given language creates a unique opera. Plaut notes that the string, wind, and percussion instruments used in western opera have distinct timbres.59

For example, a string musical tool, such as the violin, produces some tonal colors. The timbres include bright, metallic, dark, shrill, and vibrant. When these timbres are combined with the vocal characteristics of the singers, a unique piece of art is created. However, it is important to note that the sounds vary depending on the individual strings of the violin. The tone color and vocalizations used in Western Opera include warm, resonant, and thick. Others are raspy, nasal, clean, and clear.

The Potential Consistencies between Beijing and Western Operas

The Impact of Beijing Opera in Western Nations

Performing of Beijing opera in western countries has played a big role in the development of the opera. Through the performances, the art form has gained widespread popularity and spread to different nations across Europe such as Russia, Germany, and Spain.

Performing in western countries has led to the incorporation of some foreign art to Beijing opera. However, the opera through the performances has also influenced the art of other nations. During the 1930s performance in Moscow, for example, Beijing opera performers amazed Russian audiences with their charm of settings and arrangement, and use of flowing lines and dances. The performance influenced Sergei Eisenstein, a master of cinema in Russia to make his productions in a similar arrangement and structure of Beijing opera..60

Influencing western nations art forms helps develop Beijing opera by inspiring artists and composers to maintain originality and more features to the art which can be appreciated by audiences of different nations and cultures.

The Impact of Western Opera on Beijing Opera

Western opera has several characteristics that differ from those of Beijing opera. The traits bring about the difference between the two art forms in terms of aspects such as singing, stage structure, and arrangement.

Western opera, compared to Beijing opera, does not mainly use traditional characters primary figures in plays. Due to this, the art form drama and song composers can come up with works that entertain audiences of olden and current generation. The diversity of the Western Opera has prompted people to agitate for changes in the Chinese art. The young people in China are especially dissatisfied with the rigid nature of the Opera in their country.61 To respond to western influence and attract young people, Beijing opera has been forced to make some reforms. The changes include the incorporation of modern elements in plays and composing and performing new works that are not based on traditional canon.


Opera as an art form has been a source of great entertainment to different audiences for centuries. The art’s success has been influenced by the ability to incorporate culture and touch on different traditional customs of diverse groups. Also, the plays were based on various genres which the audience could relate to. Since the advent of the 16th century, both western and Beijing operas have evolved and developed to maintain relevancy in the 21st century.

Works Cited

Alberti, Luciano. Music of the Western World, New York: Crown, 1974. Print.

Barber, David. When the Fat Lady Sings: Opera History as it ought to be Taught, Toronto: Sound and Vision, 1990. Print.

Butcher, Kim. The Chinese Opera, Solihull: Cherub, 1983. Print.

Cannon, Robert. Opera, New York: Cambridge UP, 2012. Print.

Grout, Donald. A History of Western Music, New York: Norton, 1960. Print.

Karlsson, Kim, Anna Schmid, and Martina Wernsdorfer. On Stage: The Art of Beijing Opera, Basel: Museum Der Kulturen Basel, 2011. Print.

Lee, Chong, and Nicole Schoening. San Francisco Chinese Opera, Sausalito, CA: Angel Island Publications, 1968. Print.

Lim, Siung, Chunjiang Fu, and Li En. Origins of Chinese Opera, Singapore: Asiapac, 2010. Print.

Lippman, Edward. A History of Western Musical Aesthetics, Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1992. Print.

Plaut, Eric. Grand Opera: Mirror of the Western Mind, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993. Print.

Siu, Wang-Ngai, and Peter Lovrick. Chinese Opera: Images and Stories, Vancouver: UBC, 1997. Print.

Timm, Jill. Chinese Opera, Wenatchee, WA: Mystical Places, 2007. Print.

Tsʻao, Kuo-lin. The Face of Chinese Opera, San Chung City, Taipei Hsien, Taiwan, R.O.C: Hilit Pub., 1995. Print.

Wedde, Ian. Chinese Opera, Wellington: Victoria UP, 2008. Print.

Weiss, Piero, and Richard Taruskin. Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, New York: Schirmer, 1984. Print.


  1. Grout Donald Jay, A History of Western Music (New York: Norton, 1960) 65.
  2. Timm Jill, Chinese Opera (WA: Mystical Places, 2007), 84.
  3. Plaut Eric, Grand Opera: Mirror of the Western Mind (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993), 102.
  4. Tsʻao, Kuo-lin. The Face of Chinese Opera (San Chung City, Taipei Hsien, Taiwan, R.O.C: Hilit Pub, 1995), 88.
  5. Siu, Wang-Ngai, and Peter Lovrick. Chinese Opera: Images and Stories (Vancouver: UBC, 1997), 95.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Timm 78.
  8. Butcher Kim, The Chinese Opera (Solihull: Cherub, 1983), 92.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Karlsson, Kim, Anna Schmid, and Martina Wernsdörfer, On Stage: The Art of Beijing Opera (Basel: Museum Der Kulturen Basel, 2011), 103.
  11. Lee, C. Y and Nicole Schoening, San Francisco Chinese Opera. (Sausalito, CA: Angel Island Publications, 1968) 75.
  12. Lim, S. K., Chunjiang Fu, and Li En, Origins of Chinese Opera (Singapore: Asiapac, 2010) 87.
  13. Siu and Lovrick 103.
  14. Plaut 98.
  15. Grout 105.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Grout 92.
  18. Barber David W, When the Fat Lady Sings: Opera History as It Ought to Be Taught (Toronto: Sound and Vision, 1990) 98.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Cannon Robert, Opera (New York: Cambridge, 2012) 87.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Grout 75.
  23. Butcher 112.
  24. Wedde Ian, Chinese Opera, (Wellington: Victoria) 106.
  25. Lippman 88.
  26. Wedde 92.
  27. Plaut 110.
  28. Timm 105.
  29. Kuo-lin 102.
  30. Wedde 112.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Timm 113.
  33. Kuo-lin 98.
  34. Siu and Lovrick 105.
  35. Cannon 78.
  36. Wedde 104.
  37. Karlsson et al. 87.
  38. Butcher 112.
  39. Lim et al. 86.
  40. Kuo-lin 79.
  41. Plaut 82.
  42. Grout 78.
  43. Butcher 99.
  44. Lippman 99.
  45. Lee and Schoening 88.
  46. Cannon 120.
  47. Grout 116.
  48. Plaut 98.
  49. Lim et al. 115.
  50. Wedde 106.
  51. Weiss and Taruskin 97.
  52. Lee and Schoening 114.
  53. Karlsson et al. 103.
  54. Butcher 114.
  55. Cannon 86.
  56. Karlsson et al. 92.
  57. Siu and Lovrick 118.
  58. Lippman 109.
  59. Plaut 96.
  60. Alberti 115.
  61. Karlsson et al. 107.
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"Beijing Opera vs. Traditional Western Opera." IvyPanda, 24 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/beijing-opera-vs-traditional-western-opera/.

1. IvyPanda. "Beijing Opera vs. Traditional Western Opera." July 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/beijing-opera-vs-traditional-western-opera/.


IvyPanda. "Beijing Opera vs. Traditional Western Opera." July 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/beijing-opera-vs-traditional-western-opera/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Beijing Opera vs. Traditional Western Opera." July 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/beijing-opera-vs-traditional-western-opera/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Beijing Opera vs. Traditional Western Opera'. 24 July.

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