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The Cantonese Opera Tradition

Aditya Valvi, Author
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The Timeline - The Seed of the Art Form

Cantonese opera is among over 350 unique styles of Chinese opera to stem from the Ju or Xi form that originated in the late twelfth century; one of China's most culturally vibrant period. The progresses made in all forms of human enterprise, including agriculture, governmental services and the military allowed for the rise in trade and of the merchant class. The influx of money into the cities allowed the citizens to indulge in sensual activities establishing pleasure districts capable of entertaining thousands. These pleasure centres thrived on theatre, gambling, prostitution and food and it is its extravagance that we find the first documented instances of what historians consider Ju opera.

Ju Opera evolved from a form of entertainment called zaju which translates to "variety play" and included the facets of the modern opera - a mixture of the literary, visual, musical and performing arts. Its eventual spread from the central cities of the Song Dynasty to the rest of China developed the distinct operatic traditions that matured in the various provinces and districts of the land. While the performance practices and essential structure of these elaborated operas remained the same, they evolved to incorporate the flavor of the region, using the local dialect, folklore and musical traditions.

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