Huangmei Opera, also called Huangmei Tune or Caicha Opera, is one of the most famous traditional operas in China. As a local drama in East China’s Anhui Province, Huangmei Opera actually originated in Huangmei County, Hubei Province, during the 18th century when Chinese local operas were flourishing. After Huangmei Opera was introduced to Anhui Province, it became popular in Anqing City and many other neighboring provinces soon. Nowadays, this opera has grown into a professional performance art in both rural and urban areas, and has become a recreational activity for millions of people, especially in Anqing City of Anhui Province, and in Huangmei County of Hubei Province.
Origin and Development of Huangmei Opera
The Huangmei Opera was derived from the Caicha Tune, a type of song that people sang while picking tea. It is a combination of local folk songs, dances, and some widespread ancient operas. Bordering on Anhui Province, Huangmei County in Hubei Province is famous for its tea and tea-picking songs, that’s why Huangmei Opera got its original name of Caicha Opera. Before 1949, rivers and lakes in Anhui Province were often flooded and the displaced victims had to seek refuge in neighboring provinces. As a result, Huangmei Opera of Hubei Province was brought to Anhui because of the victims of flood and famine.
From the time that Huangmei Opera became popular in rural areas, it took a long time for Huangmei Opera to upgrade its status from a recreational activity to professional performance in big cities. It began as a diversion acted by and for peasants and artisans at festivals and special solar periods (the 24 weather-oriented divisions of the year). As time went by, semi-professional groups appeared, and they performed together with troupes that specialized in more popular forms of the art, like the Beijing Opera and Anhui Opera. It was not until 1926 -140 years after its advent -when Huangmei Opera managed to reach Anqing, then the capital of Anhui Province. It appeared in Shanghai in 1934, but only on stages in the city’s poor quarters. Huangmei Opera has blossomed since 1949, with the support from the Chinese government. In the early years, most Huangmei Opera plays were based on Chinese traditional folk tales. But as the opera flourished, more and more stories from other opera genres were incorporated.
Nowadays, Huangmei Opera is mainly popular in Anhui, Jiangxi, and Hubei provinces The well-known maters of Huangmei Opera include Yan Fengying, Wang Shaofang, and Pan Jingli. The opera has also spread its fame both at home and abroad with its sweet melodies, lyrics, graceful sounds, movements, beautiful costumes, and sets. Huangmei Opera’s fans can be found not only in Chinese mainland but also in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, and even Europe.
Characteristics of Huangmei Opera
The costumes of Huangmei Opera contain a distinctive Chinese ancient taste. During the performing process of Huangmei Opera, artists always wear ancient-style garments. Since the contents of the opera are often varied, costumes and sets change according to the opera’s social environment and customs. In modern Huangmei Operas, artists simply wear ordinary clothes when performing the modern plays.
Huangmei Opera music features folk songs that are graceful, sweet-sounding, light, and lyrical. Three types of music are used: coloratura, character songs, and basic tunes. The 104 coloratura tunes are taken from folk songs, tea-picking songs, and other types of songs. Huangmei Opera is easy to understand and learn due to its lyrical tunes, simple words, and literary tradition. Like other Chinese local operas, Huangmei Opera also adopts the local dialect. Since the language is a mixture of northern and southern styles, it is therefore easy to imitate and is pleasant to native ears. (This factor also helped spread Huangmei Opera.) Its local flavor and folk style are most vividly revealed in its original and lively dialogue, which is both spoken and sung.