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Tibetan opera


Tibetan opera, also called aje lhamo in Tibetan,which means Fairy in Tibetan, is an ancient art form hailed as "the living fossil of traditional Tibetan culture".It boasts a history of more than 600 years - about 400 years longer than China's national treasure, the Peking Opera.

With finery costume and resounding aria, Tibetan opera, which is wide in content and various in types of literature, has long been cherished by Tibetan people. It is said that wherever you find Tibetan people, you will find Tibetan opera.

History of Tibetan Opera

The art of Tibetan opera has long history. According to many frescoes in several ancient monasteries, Tibetan opera is originated from form of ancient opera named as “Vbag Karpo” or white mask, which appeared 13, 00 years ago. With the development of politics, economy and culture, dancing has become the major way to perform Tibetan Opera.  

“AJe Lhamo” was the first Tibetan opera which was created by Grubchen Tang Dong Gyalbo around 1385 A.C. During the time of fifth Dalai Lama, Tibetan opera turned into form of art which adapted and performed written stories with songs and dances. Three features of Tibetan opera are as follows: full plot, beautiful tune, and elegant dance steps. Twenty types of tunes can show different plots and characters.

It is said that the art tradition was created by Drupthok Thangthong Gyalpo, a monk and ridge builder in the 14th century. Drupthok Thangthong Gyalpo organized the first performance with the help of seven pretty girls to raise fund to build bridges in order to improve transportation and facilitate pilgrimage. The tradition was passed down and developed into Tibetan opera, popular throughout the region. Usually performances were held on various festive occasions, such as Shoton, in the session in which professional and amateur troupes are summoned to Lhasa to entertain the Dalai Lama and monks in Potala, Drepung or Norbulingka.


Features of Tibetan Opera

Characters’ inner processes are revealed by performers’ appearances and behaviors. complete Tibetan opera contains three steps: first, narrator makes an opening remark to show that the performance has begun; second, all performers work closely to perform the story with songs and dances; third, the narrator makes closing speech. At the end of the closing speech, the organizer of the performance and the audience would donate some money for performers.  

Buddhist teachings and local history are the sources of Tibetan Opera's inspiration, so most of its repertoire is based on them. The traditional drama is a combination of dances, chants, songs, and masks. The highlight of Lhamo is its mask. Usually on the forehead of the mask there is a motif of the Sun and Moon. From the mask, the role of the player can be identified. A red mask refers to the King; a green the queen; a yellow lamas and deities, etc. A Tibetan opera performance follows fixed procedures. Each performance begins with the purification of the stage and a blessing to the God. A narrator sings a summary of the story in verse. Then performers enter and start dancing and  singing. The performance ends with a ritual of blessing.

Most classical stories of Tibetan opera have disappeared for long time. Nowadays, Tibetan opera only has more than ten traditional plays. However, only eight of them are popular among people, which retell historical events, biographies, and folk stories. These eight dramas include Zug gis Ngima, Vgrowa Zangmo, Gaza Kongjo, Nangsa Vodbum, Padma Vodbur, Little Brothers Donyod and Dondrup, King Drumed Kundan, and Qosgyal Norsam. 


Tibetan opera - Tibet Travel Guide - Zhangjiajie China Tours, China Travel Guide

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