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About the Company
Founded in 1955 with the legendary Peking opera actor Mei Lanfang at its helm, the China National Peking Opera Company remains the country's leading traditional opera troupe. For several decades, the Company has devoted tremendous resourcesin restoring and preserving existing operatic gems, as well as creating new dramatic works of the highest artistic quality. The Company currently has three full-fledged opera troupes that include the nation's top Peking opera professionals.

More than 500 operas have been presented by the Company, most of which have been drawn from ancient history, popular literature and folklore. Such productions as Female Generals of the Yang Family, Legend of the White Snake, Monkey King Raises Havoc in Heaven, Terrors of the Han Palace, and At the Crossroad involve up to 40 performers onstage, with an accompanying ensemble of a dozen instrumentalists.

The Company also develops new repertoire involving grander staging and larger performing forces, a tradition that began in 1960s with The Red Lantern, one of the few revolutionary model operas promoted during the Cultural Revolution. Most recently, it adapted the story of Puccini's Turandot into a large-scale Peking opera, a lavish production that won the "Grand Cultural Prize" at the 7th China Arts Festival in 2004. Earlier this year, Bao Zheng judges the Liu Jinchan Case was a popular success at Beijing's Chang An Theatre. This work is an extended adaptation by the Company's current director Wu Jiang of a classic opera most noted for its jing ("painted face") roles.

As a flagship company under the nation's Ministry of Culture, the China National Peking Opera Company has participated in many international tours, presenting the country's outstanding cultural legacy in numerous countries, including Greece, Japan, France, Italy, the U.S., Poland, Romania, and Hungary.

The Festival of China performances mark the Company's return to the Kennedy Center after its debut here 25 years ago.

Peking Opera is a comprehensive performing art that combines music, singing, dialogue, pantomime, acrobatics and the martial arts. A tradition that has been popular for more than 200 years not only in the Chinese capital but also around the country and beyond, it is a refined art that has long been responsible for connecting the Chinese people to their history and folklore.

Character roles are divided into four main types according to the sex, age, social status, and profession of the character. Sheng (?) refers to male roles, subdivided into lao sheng (middle-aged or old men), xiao sheng (young men) and wu sheng (men with martial skills). Dan (?) refers to female roles and is subdivided into qing yi, women with strict moral code; hua dan, vivacious young women; wu dan , women with martial skills; and lao dan , elderly women. Jing (?) refers to the roles with painted faces. They are usually warriors, heroes, statesmen, or even demons. Chou (?) is a comic character and can be recognized at first sight for his special make-up (a patch of white paint on his nose).

The instrumental ensemble that accompanies the opera performs without a conductor, with the head percussionist cuing the rest of the musicians and actors with his drums, cymbals, and a wood-clapper. Apart from percussion (including woodblock, gongs, and drums in many sizes), major families of instruments are divided into bowed fiddles ( jinghu, gaohu, zhonghu with different pitch ranges), plucked lutes (yueqin, sanxian, ruan), and winds including mouth organs (sheng), reed trumpets (suona) and bamboo flutes (dizi).

In the old days, audiences sat and enjoyed good food and chatted with friends while being stirred by a huge variety of emotions exuding from an elevated square-shaped stage, listening to the sad strains of Farewell My Concubine one night and watching fairy tales and fierce battles the next.


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