Taiwanese opera: 2. Sentimental journey

Posted: 2014 年 05 月 13 日 in Taiwanese opera

Taiwanese opera originated in Ilan county, and its local roots have no doubt helped make it the island’s most popular form of Chinese opera. Tradition has it that roughly a century ago, recent migrants from the mainland and longer term Chinese residents combined songs popular in Fujian province with local folk dances to create the embryonic form of Taiwanese opera called lotisao (落地掃).

The earliest style was starkly simple and usually performed during the parades that are an essential part of many folk religion festivities. Amateur opera performers accompanying the processions would periodically lay down four long sticks to form a square stage, then act out a short and often ludicrous story to the accompaniment of a few homemade musical instruments. Female roles were played by men, and only the heroine wore hair decorations and makeup.

Over the decades, lotisao retained much of its original singing styles and many of the gestures that were used in early folk dance, but its performances moved from ground-level up to temporary outdoor stages. Moreover, the repertoire expanded from brief episodes to complete plays. By this time, it had already started incorporating aspects of many different Chinese operatic forms from Guangdong and Fujian provinces, as well as Peking opera. The result was a uniquely Taiwanese operatic hybrid.

Taiwanese opera, like other forms, combing song, acrobatics, and martial arts. But singing is what gives it a special flavor. Oftentimes heartrending and downright depressing, the songs are easy to understand because they are sung naturally, rather than in the eardrum-wrenching falsetto typical of Peking opera.

According to Chang Hsuan-wen, who has written a number of books and articles on the subject, Taiwanese opera has eleven major singing styles with “seven words (七字仔),” tu-ma (都馬調), “tearful tone (哭調仔)” being the most popular. “Seven words,” the most representative style of the genre, consists of four-sentence stanzas, with each sentence having seven words. Purists say that if this style does not occur during a performance, it cannot be considered a genuine Taiwanese opera. Tu-ma is the most melodious form of singing and is used for romantic scenes, but “tearful tone” tops the popularity lists, as sad circumstances abound in most scripts. This style became more prevalent during the Japanese occupation period (1895-1945), supposedly as a channel for Taiwanese to vent their sadness, frustration, and anger about colonial oppression.

Taiwanese opera is accompanied by at least eight different instruments, including flutes, strings, cymbals, and drums. Most groups have no more than five members, although the well-known Ming Hwa Yuan Taiwanese Opera Company (明華園) uses ten or more musicians, formed along the lines of a Peking opera orchestra.





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