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Classical Verse for Opera

The Chinese opera verse is another kind of literature which is closely combined with opera, with Peking Opera and Yuan Opera the most famous examples of it. Unlike novels and poetry, it relies on people to "perform" it, thus it has its own special characteristics. Its style varies according to different operas and its development has experienced several stages in history.


There are four main features of the opera verse: the verisimilitude of the characters in the opera, the acuteness of the conflicts, the centrality of the scenes and the colloquial language used. Since the stories of operas are mostly based on true stories, the characters in the opera must act with a good deal of realism.

The plot is the core and soul of the opera. The development of the storyline almost completely relies on the development of the plot. Also, because of the length of the script of the opera is limited, the organisation of the scenes should be tight to finish the story effectively. Finally, unlike novels in which there could be some descriptions of scenery or psychological movements, operas have to show everything on the stage, mainly relying on the conversations between characters.


During the Song Dynasty, the rules of rhyming and the opera's style were not strict. The length of it became much longer due to the plots becoming increasingly complicated. The golden age of operatic literature was the Yuan Dynasty. The literature standard of Yuan Qu reached a new level during this time. Tang poetry, Song lyrics and Yuan qu are considered to be on the same level in China's literature history. The themes of the verse in Yuan Qu vary and the content of it is abundant and profound. They reflect realities and many social problems. During this period, the language in Yuan Qu became increasingly basic. Compared to poems and Song lyrics, the syntactical structure is more flexible and changeable. The rules of it are not fixed. In terms of expressing one's feelings and emotions, poets tend to represent the character's feelings in objects, such as sunset, winter and the withering of the flower. The verses in Yuan Qu are more likely to be direct and frank.

Here is a translated example of a famous Chinese verse in Yuan Qu for you to enjoy: To "The Tune of Pu Tian Le": 

Recollection of Parting by the River in Autumn; Gazing into the sky at dusk, Autumn waters, misty and vast.

The setting sun kissing the hillside, Bathed in the sun beam are geeze, a flight. 

Beautiful words of love songs, From the rosy lips they're sung, On board the splendid boat before sailing, 

In the west wind silk dress wet with weeping. Two phoenix hairpins kept one for each, 

Fill up the nautilus cups for the couple loving, As they are the love-birds parting.