What is dominant and what has been diminished differ as drastically as what is stylized and what is made to appear real. Yet the term "opera" is properly applied to both the Chinese and European varieties of virtuoso lyric theater because music rules the form that the drama takes. In a Washington currently dominated by the Viennese school of European opera, one was reminded of the other species by the lecture demonstration that Hu Hung-yen gave at the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium on Friday.
Hung-yen is a small woman of squarish but supple body, whose manner has more of the schoolmarm's directness than the performer's flair. She was trained in the Peking school, the 18th-century newcomer among Chinese opera traditions. Her most bravura solo came first as she applied makeup, hairpieces and ornaments to create the white and pink "mask" and elaborate headdress of a typical "tan" (leading lady) character. Despite the rapidity with which she worked and shortcuts introduced for public consumption, this was her longest number -- appearance is crucial in setting the scene for Chinese operas.
Unlike the Viennese (reparations for the Vienna State Opera Ballet's 1972 visit to Kennedy Center have yet to be made), the Peking opera does not neglect dance. Movement in the lyric, acrobatic and mimetic modes was presented with great care by Hung-yen. It is as a dancer more than singer that she has specialized. Three musicians, whose skill on Chinese winds and strings seemed commendable and was deft visually, accompanied the dancing and singing. They also played purely instrumental pieces of the "wen" (non-military) half of the repertory.