Zongyang Opera originated in Zongyang county in east China’s Anhui province in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Unlike other traditional operas, the musical instruments used in Zongyang Opera are simple, usually using only the flute or suona horn. The earliest historical records of Zongyang Opera can be found in a book written during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty.
Photo shows Zongyang Opera inheritor Wang Lijuan in performance costumes during a show. Photo/People’s Daily Overseas Edition)
Zongyang Opera shares similarities with Peking and Kunqu Opera, but is also quite different from both. Opera enthusiasts can still find a hint of characteristics of Zongyang Opera in more than 50 operas.
“Zongyang Opera is a miracle of Chinese opera. It was carried forward over the course of more than 300 years, with some of its original characteristics still preserved even to this day. Most operas change over the course of just 30 years, but Zongyang Opera hasn’t changed at all, something that is rarely seen in the history of opera development,” said Wang Kui, director of the opera research institute with the Chinese National Academy of Arts.
However, the opera was once nearly lost in its hometown. “A lot of opera performers know very little about Zongyang Opera,” revealed Wang Lijuan, director of the Art Theater in Tongling city and also a first-class artist in China. As an inheritor of Zongyang Opera, Wang proposed a plan to rejuvenate the art form by cultivating talents and editing and writing opera scripts.
Photo shows Zongyang Opera performer Fan Yibing in performance costumes during a show. (Photo/People’s Daily Overseas Edition)
In addition to teaching theoretical knowledge and offering acting lessons to Zongyang Opera performers, the Art Theater in Tongling also reproduced six Zongyang Opera shows. “We hope to stage the shows in a way that was close to the way they were performed in ancient times, through the arrangement of the band and the use of musical instruments,” Wang explained, while adding that the shows are also being performed in local dialects so as to cater to audiences.
To better preserve and carry forward Zongyang Opera, the culture and tourism bureau of Tongling formulated a guidebook on protecting and rejuvenating the art form and sent personnel to look for folk artists and collect opera scripts in Zongyang. It invited folk vocal arts experts to recompose music used in Zongyang Opera and look for and collect classic opera pieces, in a bid to push forward protection and development of Zongyang Opera. In recent years, it has taken vigorous efforts to popularize the art in schools and in rural areas.