HuangmeiOperawas formed in the 18th century, when Chinese local operas were flourishing. Originally it was a combination of local folk songs, dances and some widely spread ancient operas. Huangmei inHubeiProvincebordering onAnhuiProvinceis a county famous for its tea and tea-picking songs, from whichHuangmeiOpera got its original name, "tea-picking tunes" or "tea-picking opera".
Before 1949, rivers and lakes often flooded, and the displaced victims had to seek refuge in neighboring provinces. ThusHubei'sHuangmeiOpera was brought toAnhuiby victims of flood and famine. It gradually became the local drama style ofAnhuiProvince, and is popular inAnhui,JiangxiandHubeiprovinces. Famous actors and actresses include Yan Fengying, Wang Shaofang and Pan Jingli.
From the time whenHuangmeiOpera earned its initial popularity in the rural areas, it had a long way to go from recreational activity there to professional performances in the cities. Not until 1926, 140 years after its advent, didHuangmeiOpera manage to reach Anqing, then the capital ofAnhuiProvince. It appeared inShanghaiin 1934. Influenced by Peking Opera andYueju(Guangdong Opera),HuangmeiOpera gradually developed from a folk art into local professional performances.
Since 1949, with the support of the government,HuangmeiOpera has bloomed. In particular, the Anhui ProvincialHuangmeiOpera Troupe's representative work "The Heavenly Maid and the Mortal" began a new leaf in its history. Though the play was a traditional favorite, the troupe revised the script, music and make-up.
The success of the opera owed much to the work of renowned performers, among them Yan Fengying, born in 1930, a country girl from Luojialing inTongcheng County,AnhuiProvince. She began to learnHuangmeiOperaat the age of 13. A versatile performer who played a variety of roles, she died young, a great loss to the profession.AnqingCityput up a statue of Yan Fengying asSeventh Fairy Maidenin one of its parks.
The music ofHuangmeiOpera is its essential attraction. Three kinds of music are used: coloratura, character songs and basic tunes. The 104 coloratura tunes are taken from folk songs, tea-picking songs and other ditties. The music ofHuangmeiOpera is light and lyrical. Singing is not only the main approach to characterization but also makesHuangmeiOpera distinctive stylistically and musically.
Huangmei Operais easy to understand and learn, thanks to its lyrical tunes, simple words and literary tradition. Passion, natural and simple, is what makesHuangmeiOpera an enduring drama appreciated by all.
The Heavenly Maid and the Mortal
The opera tells that the Jade Emperor of Heaven has seven daughters, the youngest of whom, the ravishingly beautiful Seventh Fairy Maiden, daringly flees down to the world in search of a love of her own choosing, and marries Dong Yong, an honest, kind-hearted serf, in defiance of her father. She makes the cruel landlord shorten Dong Yong's three years' indenture to 100 days, but just as they are leaving to set up their own home, the Jade Emperor has her snatched back to Heaven, breaking up the happy couple. Pregnant and indignant, she writes a letter with her own blood to Dong, vowing, When next spring comes and the flowers bloom, your son shall be yours beneath the scholar trees.
The moving plot, beautiful music and excellent singing made the play a household work. It was filmed in 1956, when there were few opera films, and given 150,000 domestic showings, also traveling to a dozen or so places abroad.