Wu Opera

During our time in Jinhua, we had an amazing opportunity to see a little bit of Chinese opera. There are several different styles of Chinese opera that have developed throughout the country. The style that we saw (and even got a chance to participate in) is one of the most popular styles: Wu Opera.

Our Wu Opera troupe with our wonderful teacher.
Our Wu Opera troupe with our wonderful teacher.

The name comes from ‘Wuzhou’, the ancient name of Jinhua. Wu opera is more than 400 years old, dating back to the middle of Ming Dynasty. At first, the troupes performed in the villages, beating drums and singing. Later it moved to the large stages of the towns and cities and is now performed around the world, including at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Acrobats during a Wu Opera performance
Acrobats during a Wu Opera performance

Extravagant costumes, elaborate sets, and well-choreographed performances including acrobatics are typical of Wu Opera. The movements of fingers and wrists are very important because at first the actors of Wu Opera did not wear long, large sleeves shirts and dresses that are common in other styles. Many traditional Chinese stories are told through Wu opera. Two of the most popular performances are “Sunbin and Pangjuan” and “The Legend of the White Snake.”

We saw some students perform parts of the “Legend of the White Snake” and we had a chance to learn a short number (with no singing of course) from a show called “Female Generals of the Yang Family.” In this play, a female general has to lead her troops into battle, a little bit like Mulan. It was a cool opportunity to learn some of the very basic movements and learn more about the process.

Perfecting my Wu Opera face
Perfecting my Wu Opera face

The final night we performed our piece for the closing ceremony. The best part was that we got to have some of the makeup applied. The makeup is just part of the costuming, but it was fun to have this crazy makeup applied. Part of Wu Opera is intense facial expressions that this makeup accentuates, adding even more intensity.

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