For many westerners the very idea of Chinese Opera brings to mind a nearly chaotic spectacle of acrobatics, the deafening clatter of percussion and the high-pitched keening of singers in extravagant facial make-up and costumes. Yet, this art form is one of the oldest and most sophisticated forms of theater in existence and is enjoyed by millions (perhaps even TENS of millions) of people! On a recent trip to China, while shopping at the massive Wanfujing Bookstore I astonished at the sheer number of books published about this national art form - shelves and shelves were packed with thousands of titles of everything from coffee table books about costumes and make-up styles to biographies of famous actors, to instructional books and videos for students! I was determined to fill this gap in my cultural education and learn everything I could about this little known and even less understood art form.
To this end, a friend recommended Rhymoi's charming recording "Dream of an Opera." As with the once-popular "Opera without Words" recordings that introduced classical music to beginners in the west, "Dream of an Opera" offers a sampling of excerpts from ten of the more than 360 styles of Chinese Opera in contemporary orchestrations without the voices. Instead of singers, arranger Meng Qinghua has selected various traditional Chinese instruments to carry the melodies. The effect is STUNNING! Rather than the cacophony many have come to associate with Chinese Opera, the sound is both exotic and oddly familiar - and easy on the ears! Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this disc was how BEAUTIFUL this music really is. My ears were really opened and this both a great introduction to an ancient and highly sophisticated art form and a treat to listen to. Highly recommended!