Tibet strengthens protection and support for traditional Tibetan opera

Dancers wearing traditional masks perform Tibetan Opera.

With the support of the local government and the renovation to the traditional Tibetan opera, the folk opera troupe of Nyangrain village has won applause after concluding their performances held at Norbulingka Garden.

Folk opera troupe of Nyangrain village just performed eight classical Tibetan operas for the residents and tourists at home and abroad a few days ago in Norbulingka Garden, making it the first folk troupe to perform the most famous repertoire in the Tibetan operas, including Princess Wencheng, Prince Nor-bzang — based on historic events and folk tales.

“After years of exploration and renovation, as well as hard work, the troupe has grown to nearly 70 members,” said Migmar, leader of the troupe, adding that the troupe only had a dozen players at one point.

Migmar said the development of the troupe could be attributed to protection and support both at a regional and national level.

The 600-year-old Tibetan opera has been considered as the “Living Fossil” of traditional Tibetan culture. It is 400 years older than China’s national treasure, the Peking Opera.

According to Tibetan legend, the opera dates back to the 14th century, when a high-ranking monk and bridge builder named Drupthok Thangthong Gyalpo decided to build iron bridges on the major rivers in Tibet to improve transportation.

Thangthong Gyalpo then organized a singing and dancing group to earn money for the construction of the projects. Tibetans consider Thangthong Gyalpo as the father of Tibetan opera.

However, before the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, there was only one professional opera troupe which was allowed to tour across Tibet by the local government.

In addition, during the past decades, the old art form was once on the verge of extinction due to unaffordable costs of costumes and props, the passing away of some old actors, as well as the introduction of modern pop music.

According to the Culture Department of Tibet autonomous region, China stepped up preservation of Tibetan opera in 2005 and more than 10 million yuan (1.56 million U.S. dollars) has been invested to preserve the old art form.

More than 30 disbanded folk troupes in Tibet have been resumed and reconstructed since 2005, and the regional culture department also offered subsidy for nearly 100 folk troupes during these years, said Ngawang Tenzin, a director of Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center of Tibet.

To further inherit the culture, the Art School in Tibet University opened its first undergraduate and postgraduate programs in Tibetan opera in 2008.

Statistics from the Culture Department of Tibet showed that Tibet now has 10 professional troupes, nearly 100 folk troupes and about 500 part-time performing groups.

“Tibet will further strengthen protection and invest more funds into Tibetan opera in the future,” said Tenzin, adding that the center is planing to build a Tibetan opera resource data base to record materials about inheritors and kinds of different schools of Tibetan opera in both Tibetan and Chinese.

Tibetan opera was put on the world heritage list of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2009.

Tibetan opera is often performed at festivals such as the Shoton Festival, or Yogurt Festival. It was performed at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.

Xinhua