What else do people do in Chengdu besides pigging out on Sichuan food, numb their tongues and sweat over the hot pots and go oohh-ahhh over pandas?
Well, they go to opera houses and watch the mask changing performances!
And while you’re at it, slot a chinese cultural show into the schedule as well. Chinese acrobatics and their dazzling theatre costumes are certainly worth the time and money. Elaborate and gorgeous, marvel at the intricate and extravagant wardrobe and try to keep your mouth from hanging open as the performers on stage does multiple somersaults in 5 seconds.
We had the privilege of watching both during our time in Chengdu. Our first performance was the mask changing show at the famous Shu Feng Ya Yun. This place is a very ancient local teahouse-styled opera house. While there are a number of them in Chengdu, this is one of the oldest with a history of one hundred years and reportedly the best in the province.
Shu Feng Ya Yun is located in Chengdu Culture Park on Qintai Road inside Qingyang Place, the famous Taoist abbey. I like this area as it provides a public space for the locals for recreational activities such as dancing and qigong while the more active can jog and walk around the park.
Fee varies according to rows and since there are no elevation for each row of seats the nearer to the stage the better your view. Our seats were 2nd row from the stage (which is like almost front row since hardly anyone buys the front seats!) and each cost 220 yuan (RM110).
Snacks of peanuts and tea were complimentary.
Shufengyayun once was an assembly hall of famous Sichuan operatic actors, and now it is the sole large-scaled classic operatic circle in Sichuan Province. In recent years, Shufengyayun gathers the distinguished actors in Sichuan Province once again and holds China Sichuan Opera Unique Skills Performance each evening. This helps expose Sichuan traditional arts and the old appearance of Shufengyayun Operatic Circle to many people; both local and foreigners.
It was almost déjà vu as I walked in as flashbacks of my visit 10 years ago hit me. I couldn’t be entirely sure, but I think it was the same theatre!
We went to “disturb” the stage actors/actresses by snapping photos of them backstage in their make-up room. I would have love to interview them for make-up tips, but thought better of it in the end. Hahaha!
This is our beautiful hostess/emcee that evening. She speaks little English, but she did explain a one-liner of the each set.
How the show here works is by different “sets” of performances. First was “Naotai” – a performance of gong and drums music.
This was followed by Sichuan Opera, one of the most characteristic Chinese local drama, with a history over 300 years. Sichuan Opera is derived from the great culture of West Shu Country, which in turn has a long history of over 2000 years.
I enjoyed the Stick-Puppet show. The story is about a fairy who descended on the world and was infatuated with the life of human and the beauty of our world. What really fascinated me during this act was the woman that controls the puppet. She really made the puppet “alive”!
Gaohu is a kind of violin (fiddle) with two strings which, together with Erhu, belongs to the “huqin” family.
After that was another opera show of which I didn’t quite pay attention since I don’t understand Mandarin.
But the next one did make me sit up and took notice. The Hand – shadow Show was magnificent! The forms that took place on the screen with just 2 hands was so realistic and with the background music and sounds the whole show was mesmerizing.
This is the young chap behind it all. I wonder how long it took him to train to be as good as he is now.
This guy was amazing. He played the instrument (apologies as I do not know what it’s called) and then during his 10 minutes performance he alternatively mimicked 3-4 different voices of people but not via speaking it out loud in words, but through making “speaking/conversational” sounds from his throat.
Not sure if you understand what I’m trying to say but I think you can guess from his facial expression? It’s almost like beatboxing if you get what I mean.
Next was an extremely funny and entertaining set from a husband and wife team. This set is known as Rolling Light - and it depicts a tale of a wife’s punishment to her husband. It’s also a classic clown play and Rolling Light is a unique skill of Sichuan Opera.
What do they mean by “rolling light”? Well, one of the main aspect of this set is the ability of the husband to balance and roll a light lamp on his bald head while crawling, standing, walking, skipping and maneuvering around the stage as his wife chased him.
The finale was the legendary mask-changing performance.
It was incredible. 10 years ago I watched it through innocent eyes and I couldn’t catch how they changed their masks so swiftly and today even when I’m already expecting the action I still couldn’t detect the swap.
I didn’t blink and I held my breath. I used my Sony super zoom lens and watched through the camera screen and, nothing. It was just way too fast. Our videographer for the trip didn’t manage to capture anything either. We watched him replay the footages and no, nothing was revealed.
And thus the mystery remained. In case you’re interested, each mask represent different “people”/character (as shown below).
On the other hand the Paradise Ethos Chinese Cultural Show, Happy Valley Chengdu was flashy, extravagant and spirits you away into a fantasy world. Touted as one of the most popular show in Sichuan province, this spectacular production cost 20+ million RMB to develop and it is shown in the 250 million RMB (RM 125 million) OCT theatre. OCT is the creator of theme parks in China, has developed a series of famous theme parks and cultural tourist spots such as Happy Valley.
The OCT theatre in Happy Valley.
Seat are again according to rows and we got a centre row that offers unobstructed view of the stage which cost us each 298 RMB (RM150). Better seats than ours (A class) are the VIP seats that cost 680 RMB (RM340) per pax.
The show is composed and performed in the following 5 chapters; Spectrum of City Life, Cherished Tradition and Modernity, Blessed Land and People, Picturesque Mountains and Rivers and lastly Promising Hearth and Home.
As predictably of chinese cultural shows and musicals, there were copious amount of singing, dancing, gravity defying acrobatics and references to sky, moon, stars, fire, wood, fairies, peaches, mountains and mystical animals.
I sat back and was thoroughly entertained for the next 1.5 hours. The riots of colours, the grandiose stage, the dazzling lights, the flamboyant costumes and the skillful performers; I sat glued to my seat and had my senses flooded with enchanting fantasy world.
And the mask changing performers gave a short & sweet appearance.
After the curtains came down we got to meet some of the key actors/actresses of the show. We did a brief Q & A session, took some pictures and marveled at their costumes upclose before calling it a night.
I enjoyed both shows though admittedly I was way more mesmerized by the Paradise Ethos production. That is understandable since it was on a grander scale and had the help of theatrical lights and cool effects. The Shufengyayun opera is more a historical and cultural style performance and I appreciate that action has been taken to restore and preserve its heritage.
For both productions I admire the dedication of each artist and the hours they had obviously invested into training to perfect their art. If we can spend hundreds of ringgit to watch Metallica, K-pop concerts and attend raves in Sepang, we should spare some budget to appreciate “skilled” art shows such as these. What do you think?
AirAsia X flies to Chengdu from KUL 7 times a week.
The timetable of the flights are as follows:
|Kuala Lumpur to Chengdu||1815||2240||4 hours 25 mins||Mon – Fri|
|Chengdu to Kuala Lumpur||2355||0430||4 hours 25 mins||Mon – Fri|
|Kuala Lumpur to Chengdu||0915||1340||4 hours 25 mins||Sat - Sun|
|Chengdu to Kuala Lumpur||1455||1930||4 hours 25 mins||Sat - Sun|
*This wonderful experience is part of our media familiarization trip organized by AirAsia X.
More on Chengdu, China:
- Sichuan food in Chengdu: 1st meal – Wei Tian Restaurant at Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi
- Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding – Chengdu Panda base
- McDonalds and KFC in Chengdu – Vegetable Wrap with Rice Cakes & Grilled Chicken Burger
- New Century Global Centre – biggest building in the world in Chengdu China
- Going cultural in Chengdu: Mask Changing Opera performance & the Paradise Ethos Chinese Cultural Show, Happy Valley
- Yu Lin morning market in Chengdu, China