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Taiwanese Opera

Chinese opera traces its roots back to the Three Kingdoms period (or even earlier).  The first formal opera troop is said to have been founded by Emperor Xuanzong who ruled China from 712 AD to 756 AD, a period which marked the apex of the Tang Dynasty.  This first opera troop styled itself as “the Pear Garden” and even today Chinese opera performers describe themselves as “Disciples of the Pear Garden.”Wu Hsing-kuo, Wei Hai-min

Styles and performing conventions have changed many times in the long history of the opera as different forms have come and gone.  The craft is based on mimetic gestures which express narrative actions such as horse-riding, fighting, or traveling by boat. Traditional instruments such as lutes and gongs provide a score: the libretto is sometimes sung and sometimes recited.

Chinese Opera Masks

The most visually arresting features of Chinese opera are the bold & colorful masks worn by the performers. These masks hearken back to an ancient tradition of face-painting among warriors and, as with war paint, the colors and patterns bear symbolic meanings.  The spirit and personality of each character is effectively color coded. Wikipedia nicely summarizes the meaning of each color of mask with the following handy chart (which I have copied verbatim):

White: sinister, evil, crafty, treacherous, and suspicious. Anyone wearing a white mask is usually the villain.
Green: impulsive, violent, no self restraint or self control.
Red: brave, loyal.
Black: rough, fierce, or impartial.
Yellow: ambitious, fierce, cool-headed.
Blue: steadfast, someone who is loyal and sticks to one side no matter what.

Additionally gold and silver faces represent mystery and aloofness.  Of course the masks are often not real masks on stage but elaborate make-up and costuming so that the players can sing and pantomime to extravagant and wondrous effect (and so that patrons can appreciate pretty faces).

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