For years, tucked away in a corner of Gumufeng Intersection 古木峰立交 is the conspicuous Sichuanese Opera Theatre I have driven past on an almost daily basis.
Despite its size and grandeur, there is never any publicity on events, and I don’t recall ever noticing many people exploring the grounds outside.
Finally, my blog has inspired me to drive across, take a look around, and then write about what I found in this post.
The first slightly unwelcoming sight was a tall notice at the parking booth stating ‘绝不对外 (Jue bu dui wai – Strictly closed to the public).
However, this is a good opportunity to point out a new character trait in myself developed over the last fifteen years through living in China.
In my younger days, my natural reaction would have been to shy away and stick to the stated rules, but I have come to acquire much more audacity, and realise that there is rarely much out of bounds in society here. Things are never as absolute as they come across.
I wound down the windows and informed the security I wanted to explore the opera house, to which he told me there weren’t any shows on or anything to see.
Undeterred, I insisted that I just wanted to look anyway, and that I would leave as soon as I had finished. He lightened up, opened the barrier and pointed me towards the square in front of the building.
On first inspection, it looked like it was all locked up. The main doors were securely fixed in place, and I was on the verge of just taking a few photos and leaving.
Then I noticed the museum round the side was open. I went inside and found a small but rich exhibit of Sichuanese costumes, props, instruments, masks and wall mounted explanations of the artform.
I took a photo of the main introduction, but rather than have you squint and ruin your eyesight, I will copy the Chinglishy excerpt here for you in its original form.
A brief introduction of Sichuan Opera
With a long history behind it, Sichuan Opera has inherited the fine traditions of zaju (A poetic drama) of the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1206-1368) Dynasties, chuanqi (A long poetic drama) of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties as well as the local cultures of Ba and Shu. During the reigns of Emperors Qianlong (1736-1796), and Jiaqing (1796-1820), especially after ‘The Flourishing of Huabu’ (Local operas) in the period of Empoeror Qianlong, Sichuan Opera gradually developed into an opera which combines five different sonic systems, namely gaoqiang, huqin, dengdiao, tanxi and kunqu. Sichuan Opera is chacterised by its rich repertory, refined acting, talented actors and actresses. It has won a worldwide reputation for having created a variety of artistic images as well as reflected the wordly life and local customs. Since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Sichuan Opera has well inherited and developed the unique tradition to which it has made some innovation. Now, it has become a valuable treasure on China’s Non-material Cultural Heritage Protection List.
A peek inside
Having examined and photographed most of the exhibits, my attention turned to an open door leading to the inside, and working on the basis that if nobody says anything, there’s no issue, I wondered through.
I entered a pretty traditionally designed courtyard with a wide open stage, with coridoors running around all four walls, and staffed offices along the inner one.
Another door came into view, and I noticed the door was not locked properly, the magnetic locks at the top unable to come into contact. I gently opened the door, slipped in and closed it slowly to avoid getting locked inside.
We were in!
I wondered into the main performance hall where some young plain clothed actors were rehearsing their moves. I walked up the aisles and even went up some stairs and took photos from the upper tier. The others certainly noticed us, but didn’t seem bothered about our presence in the slightest.
The main entrance inside the locked doors was clean and grand, and tall publicity walls were set up offering photographs of actors, performances, historical patrons and modern day newspaper clippings of their international exploits.
Happy, we headed out with a quick call to one of the offices to ask about future performances.
A pleasant young lady told us there were no performances on sale to the public for the time being, but to follow their official Wechat portal and buy tickets once they are announced.
For such an amazing piece of architecture, it is a shame that barely anybody has visited, yet alone seen a performance of this treasure of Chinese ancient tradition. The building is still in great condition and obviously well looked after, but I sincerely hope this attraction survives to see a renaissance and become a deserved crowd puller in Chongqing.