November 13, 2012

Chinese Opera in English

Recently Chinese Theatre Circle presented a Chinese opera in English. This opera was first performed 10 years ago. I believe it was also performed a few times during this 10-year period. I do not know if any changes have been made to the opera. During the first performance, I presume there were people in the theatre who were watching a full-length Chinese opera for the first time, perhaps attracted by the novelty that it was in English.

Now, 10 years later, I was wondering whether these people went on to watch another Chinese opera or how many have become Chinese opera fans. I guess there are not many.

Here are some comments I posted on my first website in July 2004 .....

Chinese Opera in English

CO stands for Cantonese opera

Two years ago Chinese Theatre Circle (a Singapore CO group) performed a Chinese opera with the dialogue and singing in English. Die-hard CO fans were aghast at this tampering of tradition. Many CO fans could not accept it. But if the objective was to get new people to see Chinese opera, I think we should not dismiss it totally. It does no harm to CO. CO is not going to be replaced with English CO. Traditional CO in cantonese still prevails.

This opera targeted young people and english-speaking Chinese who have no or little experience watching traditional Chinese opera. These people are not against Chinese opera but feel that they may not appreciate the opera as they do not know Chinese. You do not see them sitting for 3 to 4 hours watching traditional Chinese opera in a theatre. To reach out to them we need to get them into the theatre.

The show did get younger people and new faces. (In contrast there were few elderly CO fans one usually sees at CO shows.) One day some of them might decide to watch a Chinese opera in its original dialect. Now, they may not become regular Chinese opera show goers; they may also not watch local shows which they perceive as low in standard. But likely they will watch shows by top troupes from overseas.

This is a good thing as it helps to increase the base of CO audience - at least for oversea troupes. (Many Teochew and Hainan opera fans also watch CO.) Otherwise, as the audience dwindles, organizers will find it not worthwhile to bring in foreign troupes or foreign troupes will not want to come as they feel they are not appreciated here. We, regular CO fans, will be the greatest losers.

Furthermore, the Opera might arouse their interest in Chinese culture and history.

Too optimistic?

Even if none of the above happens, at least these people had sat down in the theatre for 3 hours to enjoy a Chinese opera.

However, I do not see any purpose doing it in Malay or Tamil. If we want to promote Chinese opera to other races, it should be performed in Chinese.

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