Friday, January 23, 2009

Court Theatres from Qing Dinasty (Part 3): "Chang Yin Ge" at the Forbidden City,

In September 2008 I visited for the fourth or fifth time "The Forbidden City", but this time I was there with only one intention, to know one of the most important theaters in China, where the last Chinese emperor had seen performances played by the most famous figures of traditional opera, where the mechanisms of scenery and changes on the stage were the same or even exceeded in quality those of contemporary Europe.

Chang Yin Ge or "Pavilion of cheerful melodies” is the third of the court theaters built during the Qing Dynasty, perhaps the first in importance because of its location within the Forbidden City in Beijing. The other two theaters, the Deheyuan (inside the Summer Palace) (1) and the theater located inside the Summer villa in Chengde (2), surprised me by its size, its beauty and its originality, at the end there are only few theaters built especially for the court during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and expected the same of it in Beijing.

The Forbidden City Palace is the palace-kind of city that was Chinese emperor’s home (and his court) for something like 500 years, impossible to enter to the common Chinese, the doors were opened only after the Communist revolution in the 50’s when it was turned into a museum. Containing a number of scenarios, it was not until the second decade of the nineteenth century with the importance of the new opera, which later would be named Theater of the North or Jingju (Beijing Opera), that it requires a proper stage for its spectacular characteristics.

The stage was built in the east wing of the Forbidden City, in Chang Yin Ge or "Pavilion of cheerful melodies", which used to present music and dance. As in all Chinese architectural space, the stage was located inside the pavilion, which was a rectangular area within an open space (a kind of courtyard); corridors surround it and in front a building called "Pavilion for reading” which served as spectators shelter to the emperor and his court closest members.

The beauty of those architectural forms of the Forbidden City, the colors and materials and decoration, are unsurpassed in all of China, a wonderful experience for the eyes and mind. But being the third theater in its style I had seen till that time, confess that I was not so impressed, but I made an effort and left a side my other experiences, then tried to enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of this theater, and indeed did it. It was truly spectacular.

These “theaters” actually should be called "stages" no theaters, because as I commented before there were constructed in pavilions inside palaces, then the theater would be the pavilion itself; what we admire is the stage, the construction that housed, during the performance, the orchestra and the entire company of actors and singers, with their dressing room, its stage machinery halls, scenery, etc ... a unique architecture in the world.

I share the information provided at the site about the building:

"This pavilion was built in 1776 (the 41st year of the reign of Qianlong during the Qing Dynasty). In 1817 (the year of the reign of Jiaqing 22), an opera stage for three floors, the largest stage in the palace, added to the flag. The flag is 20.71 meters high, with a construction area of 685.94 square meters. The top floor of the stage is called Scenario Happiness, the average position scenario, and the lower deck , Stage Longevity. The scenario Longevity has five hatches in the roof, leading to the second level, the position scenario. For the hatches, there are winches and wheels, allowing entrances and exits of supernatural beings, ghosts and demons . For large-scale shows, actors appearing in the three floors at a time. The arena can accommodate 1,000 people. This pavilion is located opposite the Shi Yue Lou (Pavilion for reading) in the north. The two words Yin Chang mean as much loud sound cheerful."

The miniature model of "Chang Yin Ge"

Shi Yue lou, the "reader's Pavilion", had mounted a permanent exhibition with photographs of the Forbidden City theaters, draws, instruments and objects used in it, and in particular exhibits a model that shows a cut of the stage in a moment of any performance; so, we could see all the engineering used in the theater and the places where players were hiding and waiting for their entrance. I took a video of the model, even the model is behind glass, you can see this wonderful world back stage, during a performance of a Chinese opera.


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