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Modernized Tibetan opera eyes world stages

(Xinhua)

09:55, June 14, 2013

In front of a forest backdrop projected on a screen, a group of Tibetan "hunters" wearing blue masks dance into the limelight, followed by a costumed "prince" and hymn-singing "fairies".

This is a modern rendition of a centuries-old Tibetan opera. Its songs, dances and costumes remain faithful to the original forms. The only difference is that it was staged in a modernized theater with fancy visual and acoustic effects.

Moreover, the audience for the show -- on Wednesday -- included many foreigners, many of whom were visiting Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, where the theater is located.

This updating of Tibetan opera and the cultivation of foreign fans are typical of efforts within the art form to strengthen its prospects.

"Tibetan operas are unique among all Chinese operas. It carries the special memories and cultures of the Tibetan people," says Liu Zhiqun, former deputy director of the Tibet Ethnic Art Institute.

Incorporating Tibetan poetry, music, dance, painting and acrobatics, Tibetan operas have been dubbed the "living fossil" of Tibetan culture. Once having had only local Tibetans in its audience, the art form is now appealing to more domestic and overseas culture vultures after being moved into theaters with the addition of modern stage elements, Liu explains.

He says Tibetan operas were once "open-air performances" staged in villages, farms and nobles' yards on festive occasions, with the only instruments being drums and cymbals.

"Now, apart from performances still thriving in rural areas, we have theater adaptations that feature the use of modern technologies -- we can add computerized sounds of birds and thunderstorms to make the scenes look vivid," according to Liu.

Tseten Dorje, a veteran actor in Tibetan opera, can recall the old days when most people in his trade were destitute performers traveling the countryside and putting on shows with only primitive tools and techniques.

"We used to describe spectacular scenes like expanses of barley in Nangsa Obar or the boiling sea of blood in Sukyi Nyima all in asides, but now we have LED screens and verisimilar settings like rockworks and castles," says the 77-year-old.

Tseten Dorje is a former member of the Tibetan Opera Troupe, which China established in 1962 in an effort to preserve and promote this cultural heritage.

In 1987, the troupe sent him and eight other members on its first overseas tour, to the United States. In the following two decades, the troupe has performed in nearly 30 countries and regions outside China.

"The advances in technology, for one thing, have helped non-native audiences understand the opera's contents and supported its performances abroad," says Tseten Dorje.

In 2012, cultural authorities in Tibet completed the filming of eight classic Tibetan operas that had been orally passed down and were threatened with oblivion. The DVD versions were released in April with subtitles in Tibetan, Mandarin Chinese and English.

"Tibetan operas have moved from open-air platforms to theater stages, now there are digital versions, so people from across the world can watch them at home. It means more audience and a bright future for the opera," says Migmar, leader of Tibet's Nyangrain Folk Opera Troupe.

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