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

Updated: Mar 5, 2024 China Daily Print
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The Namtar opera troupe from the Nyingma-school Temple at the Labrang Monastery performs for free during Lunar New Year celebrations. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Apart from the orthodox Namtar opera troupe from the Nyingma-school Temple at the Labrang Monastery, there are 30 local troupes in Gannan, with almost half of them in Sangchu county, including the Wem village Namtar opera troupe.

Bande Tsering, leader of the village's troupe, started to learn Namtar opera in his teens. He began by playing minor roles and eventually progressed to playing leading roles in his 20s.

"The characters that have left a lasting impression on me are the butler, the minister in Atag Lhamo and the prince in Drime Kunden. While the first is a minor role, the last two are lead roles. Playing lead roles signifies that one has completed the learning process," he says.

Around the same time that he started playing lead roles, Bande Tsering was appointed head of the troupe by his teacher. Since then, he has been responsible for organizing rehearsals and performances, selecting and training troupe members.

The troupe now has about 40 members, ranging from children to the elderly. Experienced teachers select members based on role requirements and train the new recruits.

"The local residents have all grown up watching Namtar opera performed by our troupe in our village, so they basically know the lines and moves of each character by heart, and there is no need to start training from scratch," says Bande Tsering.

Among the many Namtar performances across Gannan during the Lunar New Year celebrations, the annual two performances presented by the Wem village troupe are a big event for villagers and residents from neighboring regions. Despite being a village of about just 120 people, the shows can draw an audience of up to 1,000 people, comprising not only Tibetan viewers but also people of other ethnic groups.

In addition to the New Year performances, the troupe has been invited to perform for audiences both within Gansu province and further afield. Bande Tsering also travels with troupe members to learn from, and communicate with, troupes from the Nyingma-school Temple, Qinghai province, and the Xizang autonomous region.

Local authorities and Namtar enthusiasts have been working hard to preserve, promote and develop this art. In 2011, Namtar Tibetan opera was inscribed on the national intangible cultural heritage list. Just two years ago, Bande Tsering was recognized as a county-level inheritor.

"We will continue our efforts to support the development of Namtar opera and step up funding. We also plan to compile a complete collection of Namtar opera scripts and provide training to local troupes, as most of the scripts are passed down orally, which results in errors and missing lines," says Tsegon Kyab.

Li Hezi contributed to this story.

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