Minju

(Fujian sung-drama/opera)
Minju (Min opera) is one of the main opera genres in Fujian. The gradual integration over three centuries of opera styles produced a new genre by the twentieth century, Fuzhouxi (Fuzhou theatre)—known today as Minju. For all its borrowing, including traces of classical drama, Minju, which is sung in the Fuzhou dialect, is rich in local flavour.
The music of Minju may be divided into four main components: the douqiang (lingering melody); light-hearted folk melodies known as Yangge (Yang songs); Jianghu diao or ‘melodies from the rivers and lakes’; and xiao diao or short folk melodies. In Minju, male and female roles sing in their natural voice, unlike many other opera genres. The seven-piece orchestra is divided into two sections: ruanpan or ‘the soft split’ (dialectal), featuring mostly Silk and Bamboo instruments and including fiddles such as the yehu, made of coconut, and several oboe-like suona; and yin pan or ‘the hard split’, mostly gongs and drums.
Minju’s five types of roles are the sheng (male), dan (female), chou (clown), jing (painted face) and mo (another male part). Among the traditional repertory of over a thousand plays, The Hairpin (Chaitoufeng), a play depicting the tragic love of the poet Lu You for his cousin, and Honeymoon on a Fishing Boat (Yuchuan huazhu) are particularly popular. Modern plays include Xin chahua, an updated version of La Dame aux Camélias in period costume, and Song of a Fisherman at Sea (Haishang yuge).
Early twentieth-century Minju actors were usually trained as singers or courtesans before reconverting into an opera career. Such is the case of Zheng Lianzou (b. 1910), one of Minju’s ‘Four Great Female Role[-Players]’, nicknamed ‘The Mei Lanfang of Fujian’, who trained many generations and toured in Indonesia. The art was diffused through commercial recordings in the 1920s and 1930s and famous actors ensured the transition with the Communist regime.
Like Bangzi, Minju maintains an active presence in the countryside, where performing tours by the professional companies are partly sponsored by individuals (including overseas Chinese), families or groups for special occasions. However, audiences have been steadily dwindling since the 1980s due to the disaffection of the public because of the high price of tickets and the diversification of leisure. Though there are fewer young talents, three to four companies still perform periodically in Fuzhou.
ISABELLE DUCHESNE

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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