Tibet Story: Child actor sings Tibetan opera beyond plateau
LHASA, June 1 (Xinhua) -- Tenzin Mengnam, a 13-year-old actor dressed in a deep green traditional costume of Tibetan opera, was kneeling on the center stage, holding his unconscious "younger brother." Teary-eyed, the child sang a mournful melody in his low-pitched voice, easily touching the audience's hearts.
What he performed was a trial run of a new stage play named Donyo Dondrup, to gauge viewers' reactions ahead of the play's official launch. Next Monday, the play will debut as the first Tibetan opera in the form of a children's stage play launched in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.
The play tells the story of two princes, who are half brothers through their father, getting reunited finally after multiple challenges of life and death.
The little actor used to watch such Tibetan operas with his grandparents in his hometown Lhasa, the regional capital. Even though he was too young to fully understand the meanings of the operas at that time, he would dance joyfully along with the performers.
"When I was six years old, my parents sent me to an amateur Tibetan opera melody class at the regional public art hall, where I began to learn Tibetan opera," said Tenzin Mengnam, also a winner of the 26th "little plum blossom" performance award, a national honor for child opera actors. For him, such a recognition counts as an Academy Award.
Tibetan opera combines talking, singing, acting, dancing, and literature and has a history of over 600 years. It is regarded as a "living fossil" of Tibetan culture and was included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
To come to grips with the traditional art, Tenzin Mengnam seldom went out playing like his peers. Instead, he had to study the rich knowledge and skills of Tibetan opera and learn to play all kinds of folk musical instruments involved in the opera. Relatively mature for his age, he does not regret his choice. "I love Tibetan opera and I'm willing to continue to inherit and carry forward the art even after adulthood."
Like Tenzin Mengnam, all 33 child actors in Donyo Dondrup have been intensively practicing the drama, adapted from a Tibetan classic, every weekend since the beginning of this year.
Donyo Dondrup is the only traditional Tibetan opera which sets the age of its protagonist between 10 and 16 years old, according to Namgyal Tenzin, the playwright from the regional Tibetan opera troupe.
"We have spent a whole decade on the adaption of the major eight traditional Tibetan operas, and Donyo Dondrup was the last to be turned into a stage play. Modern technologies, sound, lighting and electronic effects help to integrate the old art with new skills, bringing the glow back to the ancient operas," said Namgyal Tenzin.
The playwright was also impressed by the little actors' perseverance and diligence. "Their confident performance makes me believe that Tibetan opera is still passed on around us."
Tenzin Mengnam's 63-year-old Tibetan opera teacher, Drongphurjung, felt relieved, watching the youngsters join in his lifelong career of promoting the folk art. Drongphurjung said that more and more youngsters have begun to learn, love and inherit Tibetan opera themselves and many places have established their own child or adolescent Tibetan opera troupes.
The play, Donyo Dondrup, will be showcased at the ninth national excellent children's drama collection show, scheduled to be held in Sichuan Province on June 5. During this summer's week-long traditional Shoton Festival, which literally means "yogurt banquet festival," the drama will be presented for the first time to Tibet's local audiences and will be preserved as a regular play by the regional Tibetan opera troupe afterwards.
Since 2005, Tibet has restored and developed 154 Tibetan opera performance teams amid its all-round intangible cultural heritage protection project. Tibetan opera performances have also become a major celebration activity for the Shoton Festival, one of the most important festivals for Tibetans which dates back to the 11th century.