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Taizhou Luantan originated from late Ming and early Qing dynasties and has a history of nearly 400 years. Here is the story of how “Luantan” got its name: when Emperor Qianlong made a southern tour in 1791 (the 55th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign of Qing Dynasty), salt dealers in Huainan and Huaibei areas assembled over 100 drama types across the country to welcome Emperor Qianlong in Yangzhou. Local official divided them into two parts – the “Elegant” and the “Variegated”. The “Elegant” referred to Kunshan Opera and the “Variegated”, also the “mixed”, included operas of other types, which have been called “Luantan” thence.


It is written in the “Genealogy of Linhai Li’s Family” that Li Huiqing, a descendant of Li’s family in the reign of Emperor Qianlong whose courtesy name was Yingkao and literary name Huaiting, had made great fortunes in business and then opened the Luantan Class – Shanbing Luantan in the Ancestral Hall of Li’s Family in his later years, teaching “High Tune System”. And that was the well-known origin place of Taizhou Luantan.


According to “Annals of Taizhou”, there were performances of Canjun Opera and other dramas in late Tang Dynasty and the Five Dynasties. In the great renovation on the pagoda of Lingshi Temple (Huangyan County) in 1987, a group of bricks incised with drama characters were discovered. They were produced in 965 (the 3rd year of the reign of Emperor Qiande of Northern Song Dynasty) and incised with characters of Canjun Opera and other dramas. “Nanxi Opera” took shape in Song Dynasty and Taizhou was one of its origin areas. At that time, each prefecture and county had an officially-run opera-performing organization, called “Sanle”. The earliest Nanxi Opera Script existed is “No.1 Scholar Zhang Xie” and the “Song of Taizhou” with authentic Taizhou tune is in it, whose language was characterized by strong local Taizhou flavor and many dialogues of which belonged to Taizhou dialect. “Zaju Opera” was popular in Taizhou in Yuan Dynasty and Tao Zongyi, a native of Huang Yan, recorded many information about Taizhou operas in “Chuogenglu” (It is believed upon research that this was the beginning of using opera nouns and Tao Zongyi explored and sorted out many Taizhou tonal patterns and rhyme schemes which were performed heatedly in Huangyan). In 1466 (the 2nd year of the reign of Emperor Chenghua of Ming Dynasty), Jinshi (a successful candidate in the highest imperial examination) Lu Rong wrote in “Shuyuan Notes” that in Huangyan, “there were people mentored to be opera performers who were not shamed of their work and some of them even come from decent families”. Henceforth, High tune System and Kunshan Opera tune ensued. In late Ming and early Qing dynasties, lower tune occurred in Ninghai County (including the present Sanmen County) and was named for its relatively lower tone. Luantan tune rose in Huangyan area in 1736 – 1796 (the reign of Emperor Qianlong), and the Taizhou-style “Huangyan Luantan” with the main singing tune of tense Luantan, slow Luantan and Erhuan, together with Kunqu Opera tune and High tune, was formed, which has been passed on for about 160 years. In early Republic of China, Luantan enjoyed a rapid development of over 20 opera troupes, as well as a dozen of High Tune troupes and 5 Hui troupes.


Taizhou Luantan has abundant singing tunes, including Luantan and also Kunqu tune, High tune, Hui tune, Ci tune and Tanhuang, making it one of the rare multi-tunes Luantan types in China. Its language combined central plains phonology with Taizhou official dialect and full of ethnic expressions is of distinct features and easy to understand. Its accompaniment musical instruments include those for Wenchang (Literary Scenes) and Wuchang (Martial Scenes). The former include string and wind and the latter opening percussion and performing percussion. The roles of Taizhou Luantan are categorized into “Upper 4 Roles” – Sheng (the role of a male actor), Dan (the role of a female actor), Jing (the actor with a painted face) and Chou (the role of a clown) and “Lower 4 Roles” – Wai (the subordinate role), Tie (the support role), Fu (the assistant role) and Mo (the role of an old-aged male actor).


Taizhou Luantan, originally called Huangyan Luantan, was formed in late Ming and early Qing dynasties and is one of the major 4 Luantan types in Zhejiang Province, and it has been included into 318 local opera types in China by the Ministry of Culture. It is popular in Taizhou, Wenzhou, Ningbo, Shaoxing, Jinhua and Lishui and has over 300 plays. The most-frequently-performed plays are called “7-Ge (Pavilion), 8-Dai (Belt), 9-Ji (Note), 13-Tu (Scroll)”. “7-Ge” includes “Huilong Ge”, “Lanxiang Ge”, etc.; “8-Dai”: “Yuanyang Dai”, “Guayu Dai”, etc.; “9-Ji”: “Moon Worship Note”, “White Rabbit Note”, etc.; and “13-Tu”: “Scroll of 100 Forms of Character ‘Shou’”, “Scroll of Double Lions”, etc.


Other representative plays are “Sanxinglu”, “Ziyang Temple”, “Autumn in Han Palace”, Lianhuanji”, “Palace of Eternal Life”, “Single-knife Meeting”, “Five Generals”, “Yanghe Zhaiyin”, “Jinluoshan” and “Purple Gold Bracelet”. With the development of Luantan, the classification of roles has been more refined. Taizhou Luantan has many unique performing skills, such as “Tooth-playing”, “Double-horse Riding”, “Steel Fork Piercing Belly”, “Tossing Fireball” and “Umbrella Showing”, which have been highly praised by people.

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