August 29, 2011 0 By melakatour

Untiring commitment for Cantonese opera
MyKampung  2011-08-05 12:49

Performing for the first time in Malacca’s Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Qian Qiu Le Cantonese opera troupe members are giving the audience a stunning performance. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
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Translated by Chan Li Lin
Sin Chew Daily

MALACCA, July 17 – Applying heavy make-up before unleashing their full potential. Settling into respective roles before skillfully and freely expressing their emotions in a world of fantasy. These pretty much sum up the career and lives of Cantonese opera performers.

For the artists, it doesn’t matter whether 10 years, 20 years or 30 years of their lives have been spent performing on stage. Their untiring commitment and passion for the art are what it counts. Unless the members of audience have grown tired of their faces and performances, they will not change the course of their career.

Are Cantonese opera actors concerned that the number of their audience is declining? According to them, even if there are only three spectators, they will still happily put on a good show.

This is the charm of opera. Those who are interested in it will remain so for the rest of their lives. They will not easily grow tired of it.

The so-called “tuk tuk qiang” opera was at its pinnacle in Malaysia between the 40’s and 70’s. In the eyes of youngsters nowadays, however, it is nothing more than “antique”, or a show dedicated to God.

Qian Qiu Le Cantonese opera troupe started performing on July 16

For the current generation, there is not much difference between Cantonese opera and Taiwanese opera.

In recent years, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple has been making arrangements for Cantonese and Taiwanese opera troupes to perform in its premise. The shows manage to bring back memories for the older generation, as well as spark the interest in the art form among the new generation.

In view of this, Qian Qiu Le Cantonese opera troupe was, for the first time, invited to perform at Cheng Hoon Teng Temple from July 16-19. The cast included performers from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

He Bo: Response from audience is the best reward

According to He Bo, a Cantonese opera actor from Hong Kong, he could still play the role of a 20 year-old although he was almost 60. He enjoyed settling into different characters and performed on stage after applying make-up.

“The ability to take on different roles is the biggest joy of performing and I’ll remain happy even after the shows have come to an end. Having so many scripts to memorize, I certainly will not contract Alzheimer’s disease too,” he said.

For He, the experience of being part of Cantonese opera was invaluable. He loved the shows and the response from his audience is the best reward for him.

Previously working as an officer in the Hong Kong Identification Services Bureau, He joint the Cantonese opera troupe when he was 40 years old. 20 years had since passed and he still enjoys tackling various roles, including those of a male, female, ugly man, crazy man and young scholar. Embracing his work and passion with professionalism, he sports a big smile whenever he talks about Cantonese opera.

He had previously performed in Malaysia but it was the first time he put up a show in Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. The beautiful stage with carvings has deeply impressed him.

Intense competitition in Hong Kong

He said, Cantonese opera troupes are facing stiff competition in Hong Kong and there is no shortage of demand for this kind of performance. In Singapore, it remains popular while in Malaysia, the shows are commonly found in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur.

“The invitation has gifted us another opportunity to perform. The size of the dressing room is not an issue,” he said.

Actors have no age limit

Zhang Qian-hui, the leader of Qian Qiu Le Cantonese opera troupe started to get involved in Cantonese opera when he was 13 years old. In the beginning, he only took the roles of “extra” but managed to get increasingly important roles later and subsequently took over as the leader of the troupe.

He said, there is no age limit for opera actors, as they can be part of the shows for as long as they want. If the spectators have grown tired of the performers, they can switch roles or even work behind the scene.

“Though the life on stage is not easy, there shouldn’t be any problem if you have the interest,” Zhang said, adding that he hoped his troupe could have a nationwide tour in Malaysia to promote the art of Cantonese opera. No matter how remote the places are, the troupe would still perform there as what it valued the most were audience acceptance and interest in it.

Show will last for more than three hours

Zhang said, the show will last for over three hours with a 10-minute interval, when actors could change their costumes and apply make-up.

He said, male actors needed 20-30 minutes to apply make-up while female performers needed some 45 minutes.

He hoped that the troupe could give a wonderful performance in Malacca, which was gazetted as a world heritage site.

Anticipating crowd with the same passion

Xu Pei-shan, an experienced opera artist who performs in Singapore and Malaysia said, she performed in Malacca more than a decade ago. The show received overwhelming response but she was not sure if her upcoming show was going to generate the same effect.

Having previously performed in Batu Gajah, Ipoh, she also performs in Singapore on a regular basis. On the shows in Singapore, she said they managed to attract the interest of senior citizens, middle-aged group, as well as youths. By performing in Cheng Hoon Teng Temple this time, she hoped the troupe could give a wonderful show and spark the interest in Cantonese opera.

Costumes are “prized possession”

Xu loves being part of the opera shows. In the two decades of her acting career, she, along with each and every other performer, had given their best efforts no matter how many spectators had showed up to watch them perform. This is the fighting spirit of the artists.

When travelling, the performers would take good care of their prized possession – their costumes, which were custom-made in Hong Kong or China. They were bright in colours and seamlessly made.

When asked if it was difficult to remember the script, she said she had memorized it before going on stage. Besides, she had struck a chord with her fellow artists and co-operated well with them.

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