Tibetan opera takes center stage in Gansu village's New Year festivities

Updated: Mar 5, 2024 China Daily Print
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The Wem village Namtar opera troupe rehearses for upcoming performances. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In a medium-sized courtyard in Wem village in the Gannan Tibet autonomous prefecture in Northwest China's Gansu province, residents are busy putting up colorful bunting and cleaning a stage. The stage, which stands about a meter high, is enclosed on three sides by walls adorned with paintings of various characters, and will serve as a matching backdrop for the upcoming performances of Namtar Tibetan opera.

Namtar, or rnam thar, is like a form of religious biography in Tibetan Buddhism.

It is fair to say that the new year celebrations in Wem village wouldn't be complete without these performances, since watching them on the 12th and 13th days of the first lunar month has been a cherished tradition for decades.

"I recall watching Namtar opera on these two days since I was 11. Back then, people from neighboring regions would travel to our village on horseback or by motorcycle for the show," says Drugyal, a 57-year-old audience member.

Geographical factors may explain the origin of this tradition. Wem is only about half an hour's drive from the Sangchu county's Labrang Monastery, the birthplace of Namtar opera.

Inspired by Tibetan opera, in the 1940s, the Sixth Jamyang Living Buddha of the Labrang Monastery asked Living Buddha Lang Tsang and other esteemed monks at the monastery to come up with scripts based on history and Buddhist stories. Thus, a unique type of Tibetan opera, Namtar opera, gradually evolved, according to Tsegon Kyab, director of the Sangchu Cultural Center.

"Unlike Tibetan opera, Namtar opera shares some similarities with Peking Opera in terms of the stage, costumes, and accompanying instruments. This is because Living Buddha Lang Tsang maintained communication with the renowned Peking Opera artist Mei Lanfang," says Tsegon Kyab.

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