Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Taiwanese Opera (Les Isles)

No interpreter is needed to enjoy Taiwan’s gorgeous mountain scenery, and the island’s culinary delights excite the palate even if you can’t speak a word of Mandarin. Getting to grips with Taiwanese opera is far trickier, however — and not just because it’s performed entirely in the local language known as Minnanhua or Taiwanese.

Like the better-known Beijing form, much of the movement in Taiwanese opera is symbolic, rather than realistic. The audience is expected to understand that a performer wringing his hands is expressing anxiety, for instance, and that hands clasped behind one’s back indicates
bravery. Operas are performed to the accompaniment of traditional instruments, such as three-stringed banjos, four-stringed lutes, and bamboo flutes. Gongs and drums punctuate dialog and provide cacophonous backing for the sessions of acrobatics that represent combat.

In 21st-century Taiwan, Beijing opera is confined to a handful of high-brow venues. By contrast, Taiwanese opera can be found in temple forecourts and small-town parking lots. Those who travel around Taiwan may well stumble across a Taiwanese opera in full swing, part of the celebrations for a deity’s birthday.

Shrine performances are often low-budget affairs...

Les Isles is the relaunched inflight magazine of UNI Air. The complete article (which is pretty short) can be read online here.