Home-grown Cantonese operas take centre stage

Tina Wong (far left) plays Empress Wu Ze Tian, while See Too Hoi Siang plays the titular role in The Lady Magistrate Xie Yao Huan.
Tina Wong (far left) plays Empress Wu Ze Tian, while See Too Hoi Siang plays the titular role in The Lady Magistrate Xie Yao Huan.PHOTO: CHINESE THEATRE CIRCLE LIMITED

This is the first time two full-length, locally written works will be performed at the Singapore Cantonese Opera Festival

Cantonese opera's long tradition is being kept alive here with groups such as Chinese Theatre Circle Limited (CTC).

CTC founder Leslie Wong says: "We are working against the current because not many people in Singapore speak Cantonese any more. But the loss of dialect should not affect the art form. We still want to provide opportunities for the younger generation to perform and continue it."

Among its efforts is the Singapore Cantonese Opera Festival, which returns this year from Friday to Sunday, with two full-length pieces written by Wong and Norman Cheung.

The festival has been an annual event since 1992 and this is the first time two full-length, locally written operas will be performed.

Opening the festival is Wong's piece, The Lady Magistrate Xie Yao Huan, which features the story of Empress Wu Ze Tian and a fictional female official called Xie Yao Huan. The opera touches on themes such as a zero tolerance for corruption as well as women's role in politics.

The cast includes nine students of See Too Hoi Siang, CTC's deputy chairman and lead actress.

  • BOOK IT / SINGAPORE CANTONESE OPERA FESTIVAL

  • WHERE: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, 1 Straits Boulevard

    WHEN: Friday to Sunday

    ADMISSION: $11 to $52 for each performance. 20 per cent discount for senior citizens above 60 years old, students and PAssion Card members

    INFO: Tickets from www.botempus.com/ctc or at the Chinese Opera Teahouse, 5 Smith Street

Among them is 32-year-old Hong Shu Hui, a marketing executive who will take the stage for the second time after training under See Too for the past three years. She will be playing a minor court official.

She developed an interest in the art form after attending See Too's workshop at the Esplanade in 2013.

She says: "I love the costumes, plot and rich history behind Cantonese opera. It requires a lot of imagination, given the few props we use."

The other full-length opera is The Spirit Temptress Nie Xiao Qian, written by Cheung, 70, a retiree. His love of Cantonese opera was rekindled in the late 1990s, after he attended a lesson on it at Buona Vista Community Centre. Since then, he has written operas for CTC as well as Hong Kong troupes.

"Cantonese opera is riveting because it has singing, dialogue, martial arts and acting," he says. His opera tells the story of how a young girl frees herself from a vicious demon that controls her spirit.

The festival will end with a spectacular show of seven opera excerpts and a Cantonese duet. All performances will be accompanied by English and Chinese surtitles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'Home-grown Cantonese operas take centre stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe