Tuesday August 28, 2012
Cantonese opera bowing out
By CHRISTINA CHIN
GEORGE TOWN: For someone who has been involved in Cantonese opera for seven decades, the thought that the art form will one day disappear is heart-wrenching.
“There aren't many such troupes now. The younger generation isn't interested in watching us perform,” said Choy Him Heong, 80.
Choy, who has been in the opera scene since she was seven, said: “Many who used to come and see us have either passed away or are very old now. I hope the younger generation can learn to appreciate their culture.”
Choy said her Kuala Lumpur-based troupe was the only Cantonese opera that performs in Penang during the Hungry Ghost Festival now.
The troupe will be performing here until tomorrow.
Choy had once been invited by veteran Hong Kong actress Lisa Wang to conduct workshops there. She was also in China last year to deliver a talk on the dying art form.
“I've trained some of my troupe members to take over but I'm not sure of their willingness to do so.
“They are qualified but they have not committed to taking over because it's hard work,” she said.
Having dabbled in the beauty salon and travel agency business, acting and even movie directing, Choy, who is unmarried, ultimately found opera to be her true calling.
“I started as a performer and took over the troupe from my late father in 1963. It's a shame if no one carries on with the troupe's work.”
Choo Leng Kam, 66, who has been performing with Choy for eight years, said: “I was a late bloomer, joining them when I was in my late 50s.
“I've always been fascinated by Chinese opera. Without passion, you can't do it as kotai (stage show) singers earn more although opera performers have to work much harder at memorising the dialogue, the songs, and even learning how to do their own makeup.”
Penang Teong Guan Association secretary Ng Kwan Fook said operas of the Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese dialects were a dying art form.
“The new generation is not interested in learning the craft as it requires a lot of training from an early age. Every movement and gesture means something, so it is not easy.
“There are only five Penang-based Hokkien and Teochew troupes.
“So, in recent years, foreign troupes from China and Thailand have been invited to perform here,” he said.
Penang Heritage Trust manager Ho Sheau Fung said it was important for traditional operas to keep going.
“Such performances are a living heritage,” she said.
Stages are set up in predominantly Chinese areas in Penang for performances to entertain the spirits during the festival.