January 29, 2006

Xiang Opera

After watching the 6.30 mandarin news, I decided to watch a Xiangju (a type of Chinese opera) performance. I think Amai’s enthusiasm is infectious and A.C. said the Zhangzhou City Xiang Opera Troupe is a well-established troupe with several award-winning shows to its credits. Amai and A.C. are Xiangju artistes; A.C. also writes reviews of operas he has watched.

So I went to Arumugam Road, the venue of the show. The road was very clean and red cloths with auspicious words were hung all along the road. The Seng Ong Temple is at the end of this short road which is off Paya Lebar Road. Outside the temple was a row of hawkers. Just behind the hawkers was a courtyard and there was a stage for a sort of variety show or concert. Many people were already seated on the chairs in front. I thought I had come to the wrong temple. Then I saw two aunties looking at a poster of the opera shows. I asked one of them where the opera show was. She pointed inside.

The opera performances from 26 January to 11 February are part of the Temple’s spring festival activities.

I went in and I saw a make-up room. Some troupe members were powdering themselves. Just then a female artiste was walking towards the room. I looked at her. I don’t know who she is. She gave me a smile. I asked if I could take her photo. She was affable and said can. When I was taking her photo she gave me another smile. After taking the photo I said thank you and she gave me a smile again. So I collected Three Smiles. It made me think of the opera Three Smiles. Hahaha! This encounter gave me a good impression of the troupe.

I bought a ticket and went inside. It was a spacious well-ventilated quadrangle roofed over with canvas. There were more than 600 seats. On both sides of the stage were two vertical electronic boards for Chinese subtitles. As at many Chinese opera shows, the audience consisted mainly of uncles and aunties.

The performance started punctually at eight. The scenes were short and there were no breaks between them. The two artistes performing the lead male and female roles are slim and beautiful. The story was about a fairy who came down to earth and fell for a prince and so on… …

My initial observations:
The artistes do not paint their faces as red as they do in cantonese opera and their costumes and headgears are not so elaborate. But the performance style is very similar to Cantonese opera.

There were few props and backdrops. Maybe it is not the same if they perform in a theatre.

January 24, 2006

At Hong Kong Airport

I just watched a Hong Kong drama serial. In this episode, a lawyer (a character in the story) said that it was an offence in HK to utter vulgarities in a public place; and the more public and international a place was, the more serious the offence.

This brought me back to last December. We were waiting in a holding area in Hong Kong International Airport waiting for a Jetstar flight back to Singapore. A group of male airport employees were not far away near the wall talking among themselves. Suddenly one of them uttered quite loudly a four-word Cantonese phrase ‘dew ……’ It means screw your mother. Later we heard another 4-word phrase also starting with ‘dew’. I did not know what it meant. Neither did my friend who is a Cantonese.

I don’t know if these words are vulgar under HK laws but certainly this incident didn’t give a good image of HK.

January 12, 2006

Appreciating of Chinese Opera without knowing the Language

Last Saturday, I attended a Cantonese opera excerpt performance at the Esplanade Recital Studio. There were a number of foreigners, several of whom indicated that it was their first time watching a Chinese opera.

There was a pre-performance talk on Chinese opera by Mr Leslie Wong, chairman of Chinese Theatre Circle.

One point mentioned by Mr Wong was that was that you can still appreciate Chinese opera even if you do not know the language or dialect. Quite true.

But, I feel that in this case your appreciation is not complete and your enjoyment is limited. You would miss out on the beauty of the language or dialect, the poems and songs, the metaphors, the humour,…. You can only appreciate visual parts - the gestures and movements, dances - and maybe the music.

Subtitles only help you to follow the story line. The subtleties of the language are lost in the translation.

I am sure a Chinese opera lover would feel the joy and exhilaration when a good song is well sung by a competent artiste. Would someone not knowing the language have such emotions?

I think the decades-old no-dialects policy is bad for Chinese opera. It makes it difficult for Chinese opera groups to recruit youths to train as opera artistes. It is also hard to increase the pools of Chinese opera fans


One of the excepts was performed by a group of 12 children from the Chinese Theatre Circle’s Children’s Opera Class. They performed an excerpt from Madam White Snake – Stealing the Magic Herb.

They looked cute in their costumes and slight makeup. It was quite funny watching the younger ones tottering around the floor and the older one trying nervously to recite their lines. And there was one kid dressed as an elderly saint complete with a long white beard.

Considering their young age, short training period and lack of performing experience, they performed creditably.

Unfortunately, taking photos is not allowed.

Hope the kids’ interest in Chinese opera can be sustained when they enter secondary school and later.

January 08, 2006

Blogs on Chinese Opera

Singaporean blogs:

1. Opera Fanatic Blog by Miko - “Chinese opera is so beautiful.. I want to cry!”
Miko performs Ge Zai Xi and Liyuanxi.

2. Kirk’s Passion by Amai - “ I belong to the stage, I belong to my Chinese Opera”.
Amai performs XiangJu.

Their enthusiasm and passion in Chinese opera are reflected in their writings.

3. A.C.’s World of Thoughts (http://aycee78.blogspot.com/)
He is a member of the Bukit Panjang Hokkien Konghuay Opera Troupe. (The only Xiangju troupe in Singapore.)

Other blogs:

1. A blog by a Hong Kong girl, Apple, who performs Cantonese opera.

2. Cantonese Opera’ by a Malaysian.


This Singaporean wrote about her experience watching a Cantonese opera performance for the first time.

Another Singaporean says Chinese opera needs to be preserved.