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Peking opera first started to gain national recognition in the 19th century, as is probably the best-known Chinese traditional music-theater in the West. Though known to the West as Peking opera, it is referred to in China as "jing ju," translated as "capital theater." This musical genre contains such diverse characteristics including virtuosic singing in romantic scenes involving young lovers, stylized battle scenes at land our at seas featuring spectacular acrobatics, comical slapstick often with underlying themes of political satire, and dramatic scenes of betrayal, revenge, retribution, and triumph.
The origins of the plots of Peking opera come mostly from popular legend, historical events, novels, and other narrations. Peking opera is divided into five main categories and their subcategories according to age, sex, social status and character. These include the following: Sheng (male role), Dan (female role), Jing (painted face role), Mo (a minor old-male role), and Chon (male comic role).
The basic musical elements of Peking opera include arias, musical speech (recitatives), and instrumental music. Though instrumental music has many functions in Peking opera, its most important function is to accompany the singing and the physical movements and dance. The instrumental ensemble is made up of two components: the melodic (wenchang) and the percussion (wuchang). The percussion ensemble is basically made up of five instruments. The danpigu (single-headed drum), ban (paired wooden clapper), xiaoluo (small going that produces rising pitch), and naoba (small pair of cymbals). The music of the percussion ensemble is comprised of sixty conventional rhythmic patterns, all which help to indicate kinds of dramatic situations, atmospheres, or moods. Other functions that these percussion pattern perform include accompanying fighting scenes, producing sound effects, and indicating entrances and exits of dramatic personages and their social status to name just a few.
The instruments of the...