80 years in opera

Singapore's doyenne of Peking opera Phan Wait Hong died two days ago at the Singapore General Hospital, after a heart attack on Tuesday. She was 102.

Her grandson, teacher Kong Giin Huei, 49, told The Straits Times that Madam Phan, who suffered from dementia and lived with a maid in a five-room Housing Board flat in Tanjong Pagar, was sent to hospital on Sunday after she developed breathing difficulties.

Phan made her last public appearance at the Chinese Opera Institute's inaugural Orchids Awards more than two years ago, when she and another home-grown Peking opera practitioner, Hor Chim Or, 98, received the institute's first Prestige Awards for their contributions to Singapore Chinese opera.

Peking opera artistes here, such as Tian Ping, 49, were saddened by news of Phan's death.

She said: "Though many years my senior, she was humble and always wanted to improve her skills."

Phan Wait Hong

Shanghai-born Phan had no formal education or training in opera, but started taking private lessons at the age of eight. She joined a Chinese opera troupe to perform in Singapore when she was 14.

She never returned to Shanghai. By the late 1930s, she was playing leading roles in opera theatres and tea houses here.

She stopped performing professionally in the late 1950s, but remained active with amateur Peking opera troupes here, such as Ping Sheh and Tian Yu Peking Opera Society, till she was in her 80s and early 90s.

The 1992 Cultural Medallion recipient leaves behind a son, a daughter, six grandchildren, five great grandchildren and three great-great grandsons.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2016, with the headline 80 years in opera. Subscribe