HK opera star staging two Cantonese classics

Joyce Koi and in Legend Of The Purple Hairpin (above) with leading actress Ng Mei Ying.
Joyce Koi and in Legend Of The Purple Hairpin (above) with leading actress Ng Mei Ying.PHOTOS: JOYCE KOI
Joyce Koi (above) and in Legend Of The Purple Hairpin with leading actress Ng Mei Ying.
Joyce Koi (above) and in Legend Of The Purple Hairpin with leading actress Ng Mei Ying.

Hong Kong opera star Joyce Koi and her Ming Chee Sing Chinese Opera Troupe are staging two Cantonese opera classics - Legend Of The Purple Hairpin and Princess Chang Ping - at Resorts World Sentosa this weekend.

This is the first time Koi, better known as Koi Ming Fai to her fans, is bringing a 50-member troupe, including musicians, here since her Singapore debut in 1993.

"The two well-known Cantonese opera classics are seldom performed, even in Hong Kong, because they are each nearly three hours long," says Koi who plays the leading male, or xiao sheng, role opposite the troupe's leading actress, or hua dan, Ng Mei Ying, in both operas.

  • BOOK IT / MING CHEE SING CHINESE OPERA TROUPE, LEGEND OF THE PURPLE HAIRPIN

  • WHERE: Resorts World Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa

    WHEN: Saturday, 7.30 pm


    PRINCESS CHANG PING

    WHEN: Sunday, 7.30 pm

    ADMISSION: Tickets from $48 to $168 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Legend Of The Purple Hairpin, or Zi Chai Ji, is a tragic love story set in the Tang dynasty in China. Princess Chang Ping, better known as Di Nu Hua, is a tale of romance involving a princess from the Ming dynasty.

"We are staging them at the request of our Singapore audience this time," says Koi in a telephone interview with Life.

The veteran performer started attending opera acting and singing lessons at Pat Wo Wui Kun, a Chinese clan association for Cantonese opera actors, musicians and owners of opera troupes in Hong Kong when she was barely 15 in the early 1980s.

Koi, who is in her late 40s and is single, was spotted at an opera talent show in Hong Kong about 30 years ago by opera promoter Lau Kam Yiu. He was so taken by her that he founded Ming Chee Sing Chinese Opera Troupe in 1990 to allow her to perform as a professional artist.

Lau, who died in 2011 aged 79, left the troupe to her and the other members to run.

They now perform at least 100 shows a year, including in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and other Asian countries where they are well known.

She last performed here at the Esplanade Theatre in 2012. Her previous performances were mostly opera excerpts which were loved by Singapore fans.

Her troupe will be using giant LED or light-emitting diode boards to display backdrops and sets during their two performances here, she says.

"The new technology saves time in between scenes as the changing of sets can be done with the push of a button without the need to draw back and raise the curtain over and over again," she adds.

Aside from Lau, the other person Koi owes her successful career to is Cantonese opera legend Lam Ka Sing, who was her teacher for many years. He taught her valuable lessons in playing the xiao sheng role.

Lam died last month at the age of 82 after fainting at home, according to Hong Kong media reports.

Life poses Koi a frequently asked question: Why is a pretty woman like her playing the male role instead of a female one?

Her reply: "My teachers said it is always difficult to find women to play the xiao sheng role well and so I decided to take up the challenge."

Recently, she played a woman in a 20-part, semi-autobiographical Hong Kong TV drama serial, Romantic Repertoire, about a female opera star. It ended its run in April.

"After my appearance in the serial, I still prefer my stage role as a leading male or xiao sheng in Cantonese operas," she quips.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'HK opera star staging two Cantonese classics'. Print Edition | Subscribe