Opera (Lhamo)


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The Lhamo Performance

A lhamo performance at TIPA - Shoton Festival 1999

The lhamo performance takes place outdoors under a large canopy, in the round, with the audience on all sides of the players. Although there are few props or scene decorations, the elaborate masks and costumes of the artists present a rich variety of lively colour. The musical elements in lhamo consist of: sung dialogue, chanted narration, drum and cymbal pieces, and occasional interludes of traditional song. Satire, comic improvisation, stylized movement and dancing round out the performance. In Tibet, a single performance could last up to 7 days, while the performances in exile usually last an entire day.

Every performance begins with a preliminary section, which is a series of ritual actions not connected with the play that is presented afterwards. There are three phases to this section: the stamping and subjugation of the earth as performed by the Ngonpa, hunter/fisherman figures, the blessings for all by the Gyallu, the patriarch-figures, and the songs and dances of the Goddesses performed by the fairies, the lhamo. Although based in ritual, the dances and songs are interspersed with comic scenes. After the prologue, the main story is presented, followed by an auspcious conclusion, where the actors sing praises and wishes of prosperity to all while the sponsors offer ceremonial scarves, ka-ta, and other retributions.

Lhamo was also a popular pastime for monks and government officials during the annual picnic season.They would give amateur or impromptu performances without costumes or properties. It was also common for Tibetans to sing namthar, the arias from the lhamo, for personal entertainment or at parties and gatherings.

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