They were playing opera in Shanghai two centuries before Christ

They were playing opera in Shanghai two centuries before Christ


norman lebrecht

September 11, 2017

From the Shanghai Daily:

The Gushan Pavilion at the Zhejiang Museum is displaying a series of Jin Dynasty carved bricks, through September 17. The bricks and other exhibits tell the story of the short but powerful dynasty.

The first section introduces a local opera named sanyue(散乐). It originated in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), when it was only performed at the royal court. It developed during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420-589) as it spread through the temples. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it spread to cover both urban and rural areas.

Sanyue merged music with dance, and many of the carved bricks depict the instruments and the dancers.





  • Anonymouse says:

    If you want to go down that line, many Greek tragedies were danced and sung…

    • MWnyc says:

      Indeed, Western opera began as an attempt to recreate the genre of ancient Greek drama.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed, and the interesting thing about that is, that at the time (Florence ca. 1590) there was no evidence of how that was done, only scarse written hints. So, the whole thing had to be imagined, like a fantasy reconstruction, and the result was something remarkable and new.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Brilliantly done….!

          But I think it’s nonsense, though. Language as the sound of it, and playing games with it, like Boulez, Xenakis, et al. It is (like the work of these sonic artists) not meant to convey meaning. But I prefer to hear this kind of language games to PB, IX etc.

  • herrera says:

    From the Chinese point of view, Western “opera” is not the same thing as Chinese “opera” in that the Western form is missing one element that is absolutely essential to the Chinese form: acrobatics.

    Indeed for traditional Chinese, they look at Western opera singers and wonder, why do they just stand there and not move when they sing (the ubiquitous “park and bark”), when does the acrobatic portion of the entertainment begin?

    Historically, movie action actors (like Jackie Chan) had their training in Chinese opera: they learned to speak, act, and yes, do acrobatics.

    In short, from the Chinese historical point of view, Western opera is an incomplete form.

    Chinese opera is closer to Broadway. One speaks of a “triple threat” on Broadway: one who can sing, act, and dance (Hugh Jackman is a prime example).

    There is no such thing as a triple threat in Western opera: no one ever expected Pavarotti to do dance while he sang.

    • Ninedragonspot says:

      “Acrobatics” is a rather misleading term in this context. While there are role-types that specialize in feats of strength and agility (武生,刀馬旦,武丑 for instance) there are plenty of other types of roles which do not require them.

      The point you are driving at is that Chinese opera training generally encompasses posture and movement, as well as singing and speaking. Posture and movement can signify anything from the simple minatory gestures of a Beijing opera 老旦 to the stylized choreography of a Du Liniang and a Liu Mengmei in the Peony Pavilion to the fire-spitting and face-changing of Sichuan opera.

      As far as “ancient opera” is concerned, our earliest, best documentation for scripts and tunes come from the zaju 雜劇 of the Yuan era (13th-14th century). There were lots of “little plays” performed in court and countryside before then, from the ancient, ritualized ghost operas to th two-character skits of folk opera, but it seems to me to make most sense to speak of “opera”, in something like the Western sense of a musical-theatrical action with a developed plot, as dating from around the late Song, early Yuan period.

    • John Borstlap says:


    • Maria says:

      “one who can sing, act, and dance (Hugh Jackman is a prime example).”

      The Les Mis film suggests otherwise.

      Very nice visually but woefully miscast, IMO.

  • Luciano Tanto says:

    – ¿Qué tendrá que ver Cristo?