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Puxian Opera


Puxian Opera is an ancient opera inFujian Province. Originally it was called Xinghua Opera, and was popular in Putian and Xianyou -hence the modern name of this art genre, as well as in central and southern Fujian -- in places where the local Xinghua dialect was spoken.

With a distant origin and long development, Puxian Opera has a long history. During theNorthern and Southern Dynasties(420 - 589), large numbers of people from the central area moved to Fujian and introduced the Baixi Opera. Later on, Puxian Opera developed into its own opera with strong local color in its language, tune and performance and was called "Xinghua tune" or "Xinghua Opera." It was named Puxian Opera in 1954.

Puxian Opera, simple and unsophisticated, has a unique artistic style since many of its performance are influenced by puppet shows. Roles in Puxian Opera followed the old rules of southern opera with only seven roles: young man, young woman, painted face, middle-aged man, "liang zhuang" (comedian) and others. In the past 50 years roles were absorbed from other operas and many roles were added.

The rich tunes of Puxian Opera have a long tradition; one can hear the influences from the music of southern opera of the Song (960 - 1279) and Yuan (1271 - 1368) dynasties. The tune is mainly of "Xinghua," which is a combination of Puxian folk tunes and music, and verses from Song and Yuan songs and dances.

Puxian Opera is sung in the Puxian dialect.Musical instrumentsof Puxian Opera were very simple in the early days. Like the southern opera of the Song and Yuan dynasties, instruments consisted of only the gong, drum and flute. The drum was a dagu (big drum); the gong was a shaluo. Both drum and gong were for controlling the performance on stage. There are more than 300 kinds of beats for the gong and drum and the rules are strict. The flute pipes consisted of the ludi and meihua. Ludi was passed down from ancient times and is an instrument unique to Puxian Opera. Meihua, also called suona, is another major instrument of Puxian Opera.

There are over 5,000 kinds of traditional repertoires in Puxian Opera, among which more than 80 have preserved the original or are similar to contents of southern opera of the Song and Yuan dynasties. In addition, 50 scripts have been handed down. It is "a living fossil of the opera of South China."

Ⅰ. Mulian Rescues His Mother

The Mulian plays are one of the most important parts of the repertoire of the Puxian Opera, and preserve many features of the Southern Opera of the Song and Yuan plays. The manuscript of this version of Mulian Rescues His Mother is divided into the first, second and third nights, with each night divided further into two volumes. Altogether 58 scenes and five out of six volumes have survived (the first volume of the third night has been lost). In front of each volume there is a list of dramatis personae and a list of scene titles.

The main outlines of the plot are the same as that of Zheng Zhizhen's Quanshan ji, but the episodes concerning Liu Jia have been greatly expanded; in fact, the clear delineation of Liu Jia's character is one of the key features of the Puxian version of the Mulian plays. The episodes concerning Cao Saiying, on the other hand, have been watered down, and only a single scene, "Entering the nunnery to meet his wife," has been kept. As a result, the structure of the play as a whole is more concentrated.

This version of the play is rich in local color, and makes much use of the dialect of the Xinghua region, which is rough and at times hard to understand. The lyrics are simple and smooth flowing, with an ancient simplicity about them.

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