Tibetan opera – Ace Lhamo

Tibetan opera, Ace Lhamo or Lhamo, which means Fairy in Tibetan, is the traditional opera of Tibet. It is said that the art tradition was created by Drupthok Thangthong Gyalpo, a monk and ridge builder in the 14th century. Drupthok Thangthong Gyalpo organized the first performance with the help of seven pretty girls to raise fund to build bridges in order to improve transportation and facilitate pilgrimage. The tradition was passed down and developed into Tibetan opera, popular throughout the region. Usually performances are held on various festive occasions.

Buddhist teachings and local history are the sources of Tibetan Opera’s inspiration, so most of its repertoire is based on them. The traditional drama is a combination of dances, chants, songs, and masks. The highlight of Lhamo is its mask. Usually on the forehead of the mask there is a motif of the Sun and Moon. From the mask, the role of the player can be identified. A red mask refers to the King; a green the queen; a yellow lamas and deities, etc. A Tibetan opera performance follows fixed procedures. Each performance begins with the purification of the stage and a blessing to the God. A narrator sings a summary of the story in verse. Then performers enter and start dancing and singing. The performance ends with a ritual of blessing.

We arrived to the venue relatively early, already around 9:30am, despite the fact that the opera was supposed to start at 10:30-11am. Slowly the onlookers started gathering, mostly locals and pilgrims (there were very few Chinese tourists and only a handful of foreigners). Of course locals came prepared – warm clothes, small chairs or cloth to sit on. It was cold, very cold to sit still (around -10c in the morning). First rows were immediately taken by the biggest fans. Of course crowds grew quite quickly and people in the first rows (5-10 rows) had to sit, and monks started to prepare the venue. And it wasn’t boring. There was constantly something going on – horsemen came, then local guards with beautiful costumes, slowly the important monks (lamas) were coming. There was even a “tiger” who made sure that people were sitting down.

At around 11am the opera started. First came the musicians and started with slow, Tibetan music. Then dancers. And I have to admit. All the happening was slow, very slow. But of course, every sound and every move meant something. At the end of the opera a smaller “thangka” was revealed on the side of the venue and that was greatly appreciated by the crowds.

I have to admit. I wasn’t there anymore at that time. I went to the back of the monastery, to the nearby hill. Where to view to the venue was the best. It was far but still… Though, at that point i was probably the greatest attraction 🙂