Peking opera to go with lunch

There is no extra charge to listen to Peking opera singers such as Tian Ping (above) at Imperial (Herbal) Restaurant in River View Hotel. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
There is no extra charge to listen to Peking opera singers such as Tian Ping (above) at Imperial (Herbal) Restaurant in River View Hotel. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Peking opera songs were performed by professionals and amateurs over lunch at a Chinese restaurant here last Saturday.

The 230-seat Imperial (Herbal) Restaurant in River View Hotel was packed when popular Peking opera tunes were sang by China-born opera star Tian Ping, veteran singer Hor Chim Or, 95, and other members from the Tian Yun Peking Opera Society, accompanied by an eight-piece Chinese orchestra.

It was the third consecutive monthly performance held there since May.

The overwhelming response had prompted the restaurant to make it a regular event to promote the 300-year-old traditional art form here.

The restaurant owner, Mr Wang Jinhui, 53, a Peking opera enthusiast himself, says: "At first, I thought of staging it only as a one-off event. But when I saw that my restaurant was full each time we had the performances, I realised there is a demand for them."

It costs the restaurant at least $3,000 to stage each performance. They include fees for the musicians and professional performers such as Tian, who was a top lao dan, or older female, performer in Tianjin, China, before she moved to Singapore in 1993. Now a Singaporean, she first taught at a home-grown amateur Peking opera troupe, Ping Sheh, and now at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

To make attending the performances affordable, Mr Wang, who also sang during the lunch-time performance last Saturday, says there is no cover charge as diners pay regular prices for their food from the menu.

The next performance will be in September, as the show will go on hiatus next month during the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Opera star Tian, who sang excerpts from two well-known operas, Li Mao Huan Tai Zi and Diao Jin Gui, says Mr Wang's efforts in promoting Peking opera here is laudable.

"In a restaurant setting, people are drawn closer to the performers and similar opera performances are now very popular in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, especially with Kun operas where performers even put on their opera costumes for nightly performances in a restaurant," she adds.

Musician Zheng Hongbo, 33, who plays the drum and clapper at the lunch-time performance, also believes the monthly event will help popularise Peking opera here.

She explains: "Peking opera performances are rarely staged at theatres here, at most twice a year. So the monthly event at the restaurant should be welcome by all Peking opera fans here. It also gives opportunities to young amateur opera enthusiasts to perform as well."

One of them, Mr Perry Liu, 33, from Ping Sheh, who performed there last month and in May, says: "Besides the opportunity to sing before an audience, I can also learn from the professionals and the other enthusiasts who also performed."

Businessman Chew Sin Hwa, 56, who was with his family at the lunch-time performance at the restaurant last month, says: "I hope this will start a trend of restaurant staging cultural performances for their diners here. In Taiwan, even puppet shows and Chinese orchestra music performances are regular features."

Mr Wang says to sustain interest, the programme must also be interesting and innovative.

"We are planning to invite the all-women Liyuan Ladies Chinese Ensemble to accompany the opera singers in our next performance in September," he reveals.

wengkam@sph.com.sg