Today, ardent fans like Kuo practice the original form and work hard to keep it alive. But they know that Peking opera doesn’t have the sort of charm that appeals effortlessly to new audiences.
“It’s bare bones on the stage. It’s a table and two chairs,” said Kuo.
With a little prodding, Kuo’s students have learned to perceive finely tuned techniques behind stock roles of the genre. “Each character has his own way of moving. There is a lot of thought and work behind everything you see. For example, the general has to move in a certain way — it’s got to be round,” said Thompson, kicking his legs. “I can’t do it. Still. It’s really special.”
But they are not opera buffs yet.
“The music is not to my taste,” said Thompson with a laugh.
Schymassek agreed. “The show looks beautiful, but the music is noisy,” she said.
And like most of her classmates, Schymassek continues to find the librettos in archaic Chinese inscrutable. But, she says, that doesn’t necessarily spell a death sentence for Peking opera’s prospects in the foreign demographic.
“European operas are hard to understand too — they are in different languages like French, Italian, sometimes German. These can be made easier for different audiences, and Chinese opera can do something like that too. Maybe with [English] subtitles,” she said.