Singing operatic arias comes naturally to people in Northwest China, particularly those living in or near Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province.
The libretto of Three Drops of Blood, one of the best-known Qinqiang Opera works, includes the line: "Born in the apricot flower village, I'm a native of Hancheng town, Shaanxi province."
These words, written by Fan Zidong more than 100 years ago, are sung repeatedly throughout the performance, with the place names evoking nostalgia among locals.
For most people in Shaanxi, Qinqiang Opera is a daily "must", with audiences eager to see performances at Yisu Grand Theater, located east of the Bell Tower in Xi'an.
The Yisu Art Troupe, the oldest opera group still performing in China, has staged Qinqiang Opera since it was established in 1912.
In recent years, the troupe has explored new ways to rejuvenate the traditional art form, responding to market demand and the fact that the older generation of Qinqiang artists is retiring.
Hui Minli, president of the theater and the troupe's first female leader, said: "The art of drama is taught by word-of-mouth and comes straight from the heart. When we recruit new performers for the theater, we always adhere to the principle of selecting those with the best potential."
To better develop the art form and make it increasingly relevant for present-day audiences, the troupe is seeking more-original librettos, Hui said.
A makeup artist prepares Qu Peng, a skilled Qinqiang Opera performer, for the stage. [Photo by Huo Yan/China Daily]
Inspired by the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, launched by Sun Yat-sen, the Yisu Art Troupe, also known as Yisushe, was founded the following year by Li Tongxuan and Sun Renyu, two librettists specializing in Qinqiang Opera.
Hui said, "Different from other art troupes, Yisushe was founded with the aim of making a difference for the country by educating poor people who couldn't afford an education."
She said this principle is still deeply engrained in the minds of every member of the troupe.
"Originality and literariness have served the troupe well, and more than 880 original scripts in over 1,000 volumes are preserved at the theater," Hui added.
Wang Zhi, deputy director of the Xi'an Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center, said: "The librettos penned by writers from the Yisu troupe years ago were realistic and mirrored social issues and traditional Chinese values. Preserving them is crucial."
The libretto for Three Drops of Blood, the best-known Qinqiang Opera in Northwest China, tells of a case of wrongful conviction in which justice finally prevails. The original manuscript has been preserved and is on display at the Museum of Yisushe in Xi'an.
"For future studies and protection work, we should make more efforts to research Qinqiang Opera scripts that have been preserved," Wang added.
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