Due to Chinese Opera’s long and rich history, there are still approximately 368 different types of Chinese Opera today. Here is a brief descriptions of four types that are probably more well-known in our region. They are:

  • Beijing Opera
  • Shanghai Opera
  • Cantonese Opera
  • Sichuan Opera


Beijing Opera

Beijing Opera gained in popularity during the late 18th century. It remains one of the most popular and well-funded types of Chinese Opera today. It has two main melodies- the Xipi and Erhuang. The actions of Beijing Opera performers are symbolic, rather than realistic. There are four types of roles in a performance- the Sheng, Dan, Jing and Chou. Details of these four roles can be found under the link, Chinese Opera Characters.

Shanghai Opera

Shanghai Opera performances usually employ folk-songs of the Huangpu region in its music. Performances are sung in Shanghainese, the dialect of the people of Shanghai. As compared to other types of Chinese Opera, Shanghai Opera performers generally have simpler costumes and lighter make-up. Due to the cosmopolitan nature Shanghai, western influence is said to be evident in the stories and music of Shanghai Opera.

Cantonese Opera

Cantonese Opera places a strong emphasis on good gymnastics and martial arts skills. It is broadly divided into two types of plays- Mo and Mun. Mo plays involve characters who are warriors and generals. The themes of these plays are about battles, wars, loyalty and bravery. On the other hand, Mun plays involve characters that are scholars or royalty. The themes of these plays include romance and ethics. Today, Cantonese Opera continues to thrive, mainly due to the efforts of numerous performing arts academies in Hong Kong.

Sichuan Opera

Sichuan Opera is characterized by solo performances and high-pitched tunes. It boasts of unique face-changing scenes where actors go through numerous changes of face masks within seconds. This skill is effectively mastered only by an elite few performers. Before the performance, the actor prepares layers of masks made of materials such as sheep embryo or silk. These layers are then peeled off to change the “face” of the actor quickly.

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