Beijing opera ( 京戏 , jīng xì) is the most celebrated of China's 350 or so regional operatic
styles - a unique combination of song, dance, acrobatics and mime. Performances are
highly stylized, and to the outsider the can often seem obscure and wearying as they are
punctuated by a succession of crashing gongs and piercing, discordant songs. But it's worth
seeing once, especially if you can acquaint yourself with the story beforehand. Most of the
plots are based on historical or mythological themes - two of the most famous sagas, which
any Chinese will explain to you, are The White Snake and The Water Margin - and full of
moral lessons. Offering an interesting, if controversial, variation on the traditions are those
operas that deal with contemporary themes, such as the struggle of women to marry as they
choose. The colours used on stage, from the costumes to the make-up on the players' faces,
are highly symbolic: red signifies loyalty; yellow, fierceness; blue, cruelty; and white, evil.
Chang'an Grand Theatre 长安大戏院 , cháng'ān dàxìyuàn 7 Jianguomennei Dajie
010 65072421; Jianguomen subway (lines 1 & 2). A modern, central theatre putting on a
wide range of performances throughout the day - it's probably the most popular place in town
for Beijing opera. From ￥ 180.
HuguangGuildHall 湖广会馆 , húguǎng huìguǎn 3 Hufang Lu 010 63518284; Caishikou
subway (line 4). As well as a fine performance hall, this reconstructed theatre also has a small
opera museum on site, with costumes and pictures of famous performers though no English
captions. Nightly performances at 7.15pm. From ￥ 180.
Liyuan Theatre 梨园剧场 , líyuán jùchǎng 1F Jianguo Qianmen Hotel, 175 Yong'an Lu
place to see opera, with an emphasis on accessibility: as you go in you pass the actors putting
on their make-up - a great photo op. The opera itself is a visitor-friendly bastardization, last-
ing an hour and jazzed up with some martial arts and slapstick. A display board at the side
of the stage gives an English translation of the few lines of dialogue. Nightly performances
at 7.30pm; tickets can be bought from the office in the front courtyard of the hotel (daily
9-11am, noon-4.45pm & 5.30-8pm; ￥ 70-180). The more expensive seats are at tables at
the front, where you can sip tea and nibble pastries during the performance.
NationalCentreforthePerformingArts 国家大剧院 , guójiā dàjùyuàn 2 Xichang'an Jie
miss - it's that giant egg west of Tian'anmen Square. The opera hall seats over 2000, with
fantastic acoustics and lighting to capture every nuance of the performance. There's an Eng-
lish subtitle screen too. You'll probably be in elevated company: former premier Wen Jiabao