Text by Caterina Sbrana.
Let’s continue our research on intangible cultural heritage to learn about the most popular traditional opera of minority ethnic groups in China, the Tibetan opera.
Tibetan Opera has been inscripted on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage because it “represents the essence of Tibetan culture and it is recognized by its practitioners as central to their identity and a symbol of continuity that they endeavour to pass on from generation to generation”.
As we read in the site of UNESCO, it is a comprehensive art combining folk song, dance, storytelling, chant, acrobatics and religious performance. Most popular in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in western China, the performance begins with a prayer ceremony, including the cleansing of the stage by hunters and blessings by the elder, and concludes with another blessing. The heart of the opera is a drama narrated by a single speaker and enacted by performers supported by groups of singers, dancers and acrobats.
Actors wear traditional masks of a variety of shapes and colours that contrast with their simple makeup. Performances may take place in public squares or temples (or, today, on stage), with the centre of the space marked by a tree placed on the ground, wrapped in colourful paper and surrounded by purified water and theatrical props. Rooted in Buddhist teachings, the stories told in Tibetan opera recount the triumph of good and the punishment of evil and therefore serve a social teaching function for the community.
This multifaceted representative of Tibetan art and cultural heritage also acts as a bridge among Tibetans in different parts of the country, promoting ethnic unity and pride.
I suggest you watch a video on Tibetan Opera, known as Lhamo or Ache Lhamo in Tibetan. The video is available on you tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSJ_HFap6TM) and it allows you to admire dancers engaged in extraordinary religious ceremonies; as we wrote the characters wear colorful masks and gaudy costumes and it seems like watching a fossil culture who returns to live.