Last October, I headed to Beijing, China on a business trip – the usual happened, arrived at the airport, transferred to the hotel, then meetings, entertaining, more meetings and then back to the hotel. What was unusual about this visit was, at the hotel where I stayed, there was a 1,000 seat Chinese opera theatre that had nightly Chinese opera performances. Even though it was a long day for me, I took the opportunity to check out the show. The LiYuan Theatre (梨园剧场) is a famous venue that once hosted the wife of the current Chinese President, Peng Liyuan.
There are different types of seating at the theatre. I was seated at the VIP area – it doesn’t mean much, the difference is, I had table and was presented with Chinese tea and snacks for my enjoyment during the performance. All of the guests were tourists from other countries, mostly from Australia, and the United States. I was the only Chinese in the audience – besides the ushers and service staff, of course! The night I was there, the theatre had about 50 people in the audience, it definitely wasn’t full by any means!
Every night, the cast stages an hour long performance showcasing a variety of short stories. Before the show begins, one of the cast members is on stage to demonstrate how typical Chinese opera performers prepare themselves, from hair, make-up, to clothing – we saw it all. It was fascinating to see the intricate make-up techniques and layers upon layers of clothes the performer has to put on for the show.
Each skit was about 15 minutes long in the form of a musical, sung in Mandarin. I can say my understanding of Mandarin is good, but during the performance, I still had to read the surtitles. I think it was the intonation that threw me off. The skits were simple yet entertainingly funny. There were also some acrobatic performances that stunned the audience.
Being a Chinese, it was my first time watching live Peking opera. Although the performance is more of a tourist attraction, it gave me a good idea of what Chinese opera is like. I hope to watch a full Chinese opera performance in the near future – hopefully again in China’s capital city!
Follow me on my travels and food exploration on Instagram at: instagram.com/travelandmunches