Beauty of Cantonese opera

Peony My Beauty (above) is a full-length opera production by the Foshan Cantonese opera troupe, which will also put up excerpts from Chinese historical epics such as Water Margin and Journey To The West.
Peony My Beauty (above) is a full-length opera production by the Foshan Cantonese opera troupe, which will also put up excerpts from Chinese historical epics such as Water Margin and Journey To The West.PHOTO: THE ESPLANADE
Chinese musician Gong Yi will play the guqin in a solo recital.
Chinese musician Gong Yi will play the guqin in a solo recital.PHOTO: THE ESPLANADE

Peony My Beauty by Guangdong's Foshan Cantonese opera troupe is on the line-up of Esplanade's Moonfest, which includes a concert by ethnic Chinese tribes

Most people think of Cantonese opera as an art form enjoyed by older folks, one that is more elegiac than it is eye-catching, but opera actors Pei Xiao Ming and Liang Miao Tong say that their upcoming performances here require much physical action.

Pei, 31, who is acting as the military general Zhou Yu in the excerpt Defeating Zhou Yu, says: "The 360-degree backflips are the hardest. I've suffered some injuries for this, but now I'm better."

His fellow troupe performer Liang, 28, agrees: "My character is a ghost, so to show that she is a spirit, I wear longer sleeves. The biggest challenge for me is to express her emotions using shui xiu gong (water sleeves technique)."

They are part of the Foshan Cantonese opera troupe, the headlining act at this year's Moonfest, the Esplanade's annual Chinese traditional arts festival.

Hailing from Foshan city in Guangdong province, the birthplace of Cantonese opera in China, the troupe has toured to countries such as Germany, France and the United States and will be here for the fifth time.

It will stage Peony My Beauty, a full-length 200-minute-long production adapted from the classic Ming dynasty opera The Peony Pavilion.

  • BOOK IT / MOONFEST - A MID-AUTUMN CELEBRATION

    WHERE: The Esplanade

    WHEN: Sept 25 to 27, various timings

    ADMISSION: Various free and ticketed events, go to moonfest.com.sg

Dynasties will wax and wane, as heroes and villains cross swords in seven excerpts from Chinese historical epics, such as Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, Water Margin and Journey To The West.

The troupe is helmed by veteran Cantonese opera actress Li Shu Qin, who is a recipient of the Plum Blossom Award, one of the highest honours for regional opera in China. She will star as the female lead Du Li Niang in Peony My Beauty, a tale about a pair of star- crossed lovers sundered by the forces of mortality and time.

Li says: "Du Li Niang is someone who will be familiar to people who enjoy opera, but I think Peony My Beauty is different from other scripts because we go through all the acts in one night and tell their stories."

On top of Cantonese opera, audiences can also look forward to a concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall by folk singers from ethnic tribes in China, such as the Hani and Yi peoples.

Chinese classical musician and scholar Gong Yi will play the guqin, a seven-stringed zither, in a solo recital.

For families with children, there are lantern-making and Chinese opera workshops, as well as free outdoor performances harking back to old Singapore, when Chinese migrants would gather in droves in the streets to watch open-air opera performances.

The festival's programmer Delvin Lee says: "We are recreating an outdoor Chinese street opera stage so more people can enjoy this vanishing art form in various dialects by the bustling Marina Bay."


Moonfest line-up

Soak in the Mid-Autumn Festival atmosphere at the Esplanade's Moonfest, an annual Chinese traditional arts festival held from Sept 25 to 27.

The line-up of activities includes performances by an award- winning Cantonese opera troupe, a seven-stringed zither recital, as well as family-friendly performances, such as a children's theatre production and workshops to make lanterns and learn more about Chinese opera.

Life checks out the festival's highlights.

Resounding Voices - An Evening Of Ethnic Folk Songs

In this performance by China Ethnic Song And Dance Ensemble, folk singers from different ethnic tribes, such as Sa Ren Hu of the Mongol people and Su Du A Luo of the Yi people, will perform songs from their homeland.

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall

When: Sept 26, 7.30pm

Admission: $20 to $48


Journey West: Web Of Deceit

In this production by home-grown company Paper Monkey Theatre, children will get to learn about the art forms of Teochew metal-rod puppetry and shadow puppetry.

An original commission for Moonfest, it is based on the Chinese epic Journey To The West. Recommended for children aged five and older.

Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio

When: Sept 25, 10.30am and 2pm; Sept 26 and 27, 2 and 6pm

Admission: $22


Parent-Child Workshop: Discovering Chinese Opera

Chinese Opera Society (Singapore) conducts this workshop covering the basics of Chinese opera, such as its different roles, gestures and movements. Children have to be accompanied by their parents or guardians.

Where: Esplanade Rehearsal Studio

When: Sept 26, 11am (English) and 2.30pm (Mandarin)

Admission: $24 to $36, depending on the number of adults and children

•Tickets for Moonfest 2015 are available from the Esplanade's box office or Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2015, with the headline 'Beauty of Cantonese opera '. Print Edition | Subscribe