Opera hits the right notes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am


Wuhan's traditional Hanju Opera is one of the lesser-known styles of Chinese opera and definitely worth a night out when in Wuhan. The city has dozens of small and large opera houses devoted to Wuhan's acrobatic styles and Hanju operatic performances.

Hanju opera dates back 300 years to the mid-18th century, when flamboyant, wild performances around Wuhan coalesced into a new style that favoured rich costumes and daring acrobatics.

Even for the layman, Hanju is distinguishable from the pompous posturing of the Beijing opera, the fire-breathing Sichuan opera and the delicate and drawn out eastern seaboard operas.

The most famous of Wuhan's opera houses is the Wuhan Hanju Opera Theater, operating in its present form since 1962. The company has travelled extensively, performing around the Asia-Pacific rim for years before focusing its efforts on the domestic audience.

Some important performances from the theatre are Fan Lihua's Third Invite, Yang Silang Visits His Mother, and Playing the Flower Drum, some of which have been made into short films, television shows and regular recurring series. The last play has particular significance, because it features two of Wuhan's most enduring exports: gongs and cymbals.

Chinese musicians have been using gongs and cymbals for centuries and the best were produced in the Wuhan region. Their use goes back to the Han dynasty more than 2,000 years ago, and remains of gongs and cymbals have been found from the Han strongholds around the Yellow River down through the confluence of the Han and Yangtze Rivers, the Wuhan region, and as far south as Guangxi province.

Wuhan's connection with the instruments continues with the Hanju Theatre's liberal use of them to signal decisive action, incredible acrobatics or the entrance of the important figure.