Monday, February 23, 2009

A taste of Cantonese Opera

The foyer of the Sunbeam Theatre, all ready
to host an evening (or more!) of Cantonese opera

The bright sight that often greets me
on the tram ride home from work

Earlier this month, Cantonese opera fans in Hong Kong received the welcome news that the Sunbeam Theatre -- the territory's sole dedicated venue for the traditional performing arts that the authorities are contemplating submitting for World Heritage listing -- has had its lease renewed for another three years at least; this after widespread expectation that it would have its last show in January of this year.

Fearful that I would not have a chance to do so before too long, I went and attended a Cantonese Opera performance at the Sunbeam Theatre a few weeks back. (Incidentally, Hong Kong movie fans might like to know that this is the main performance venue featured in Shu Kei's enthralling Hu-Du-Men; while heritage buffs should note that it's one of the few landmark locations featured in the movie that remain despite the film being less than fifteen years old!)

The experience was an interesting one that whetted my appetite for more Cantonese opera viewing; albeit preferably with English surtitles. This past Saturday, I got precisely that by way of the forward-thinking The Art of Cantonese Opera group's production of Tong Tik-seng's The Floral Princess (AKA Princess Chang Ping).

At more than three hours long, the opera was about twice as long as the John Woo opera movie that I viewed some time back. In all honesty, though, really did manage to enjoy the live performance quite a bit more; and so much that I can't quite believe that it's taken me this long to give full length Cantonese opera shows in all their colorful glory a genuine chance!


Anonymous said...

Hurray! I do hope the Sunbeam becomes a World Heritage site.

But I should take nothing for granted and will definitely make a point of catching a show there the next time I'm in Hong Kong.

I didn't know that the Sunbeam was featured in Hu-Du-Men. Even more reason to pay my respect!

sbk said...

Hi ytsl,

Yeah for the Sunbeam. A few years ago I spent a Sunday afternoon at the Sunbeam watching a medley of best known/popular scenes from 5 or 6 Cantonese Operas. The show ran about 4 1/2 hours and was so entertaining I was sorry when it was over.

The Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Shatin has interesting exhibit on Cantonese Opera. Costumes (donated by a famous star), playbills, props, etc.

YTSL said...

Hi duriandave --

Oops, sorry, if I misled -- what I meant to say is that there is a drive to get Cantonese opera recognized as an intangible cultural heritage (not the Sunbeam Theatre a World Heritage Site)! But, yeah, the Sunbeam is really cool -- what I regret now is that I never watched a movie there...

Hi sbk --

Cantonese operas can be lengthy indeed. The "Floral Princess" that I watched on Saturday was tagged as a "Youth Edition" and not as lengthy as regular operas -- but it still ran for over 3 hours!

Re the HK Heritage Museum: In addition to its permanent Cantonese opera exhibition, right now it's also got a special exhibition on Cantonese opera theatres called "The Majestic Stage". Pretty cool -- and where I went two Sundays ago, actually! :)

Anonymous said...

Well, it goes without saying that Cantonese opera should be recognized as an intangible cultural heritage. (Where do I sign the petition!)

And although the Sunbeam is not super old, it would also be nice to preserve Hong Kong's oldest surviving (?) venue for Cantonese opera.

fallingstones said...

hey hey YTSL! Read your interview with Malay Mail..... ;-) cool ;-) thanks for mentioning ;-))))))))

Anonymous said...

You didn't sit in the 1st few front rows, did you? Coz traditionally, those seats are for the ghosts to enjoy the show....... (twillight music in the background!)

YTSL said...

Hi again duriandave --

There's no petition per se that I know of but hey, maybe you'd might like to write a letter of support to UNESCO! :b

Hi fallingstones --

You're welcome re the mention -- and if you want to make me really happy, blog more (about movies)!!! :)

Hi strawberrie-kid --

Er... actually, I actually was assigned -- and sat in -- a front row seat at the show this past weekend! But I think that superstition/practice you mentioned only applies to Cantonese opera performed during such as the Hungry Ghost Festival. That's my hope at least... ;S