|Traditional Chinese||1. |
Cantonese opera (Chinese: ) is one of the major categories in Chinese opera, originating in southern China's Guangdong Province. It is popular in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macau and among Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Like all versions of Chinese opera, it is a traditional Chinese art form, involving music, singing, martial arts, acrobatics, and acting.
There is debate about the origins of Cantonese opera, but it is generally accepted that opera was brought from the northern part of China and slowly migrated to the southern province of Guangdong in the late 13th century, during the late Southern Song dynasty. In the 12th century, there was a theatrical form called the Nanxi or "Southern drama", which was performed in public theatres of Hangzhou, then capital of the Southern Song. With the invasion of the Mongol army, Emperor Gong of the Song dynasty fled with hundreds of thousands of Song people into Guangdong in 1276. Among them were Nanxi performers from Zhejiang, who brought Nanxi into Guangdong and helped develop the opera traditions in the south.
Many well-known operas performed today, such as Tai Nui Fa originated in the Ming Dynasty and The Purple Hairpin originated in the Yuan Dynasty, with lyrics and scripts in Cantonese. Until the 20th century all the female roles were performed by males.
In the 1840s, a large number of Guangdong businessmen came to Shanghai for opportunities. They owned abundant resources, therefore, their influence in Shanghai has gradually increased (Song, 1994). Later, various clansmen associations have been established to sponsor different cultural activities, Cantonese opera was one of them. From the 1920s to the 1930s, the development of Cantonese opera in Shanghai was very impressive (Chong, 2014). At that time, the department stores opened by the Cantonese businessmen in Shanghai had their Cantonese opera theater companies. Moreover, the Guangdong literati in Shanghai always put great effort into promotions of Guangdong opera. A newspaper recorded that "The Cantonese operas were frequently played at that time. And the actors who came to perform in Shanghai were very famous. Every time many Cantonese merchants made reservations for inviting their guests to enjoy the opera."(Cheng, 2007)
Beginning in the 1950s immigrants fled Shanghai to areas such as North Point. Their arrival significantly boosted the Cantonese opera fan-base. Also, the Chinese Government wanted to deliver the message of socialist revolution to Chinese people under colonial governance in Hong Kong. Agents of the Chinese government founded newspaper platforms, such as Ta Kung Pao () and Chang Cheung Hua Pao (?) to promote Cantonese Opera to the Hong Kong audience. These new platforms were used to promote new Cantonese Opera releases. This helped to boost the popularity of Cantonese Opera among the Hong Kong audience. Gradually, Cantonese Opera became a part of daily entertainment activity in the colony.
The popularity of a Cantonese Opera continued to grow during the 1960s. More theatres were established in Sheung Wan and Sai Wan, which became important entertainment districts. Later, performances began to be held in playgrounds, which provided more opportunities to develop Cantonese Opera in Hong Kong. As the variety of venues grew, so the variety of audiences became wider. However, Cantonese Opera began to decline as TV and cinema started to develop in the late 1960s. Compared to Cantonese Opera, cinema was cheaper and TV was more convenient. Subsequently, some theatres started to be repurposed as commercial or residential buildings. The resulting decline in available theatres further contributed to the decline of Cantonese Opera in the territory.
Since the demolition of Lee Theatre and the closing down of many stages (Tai Ping Theatre, Ko Shing Theatre, Paladium Theatre, Astor Theatre or former Po Hing Theatre, Kai Tak Amusement Park and Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park) that were dedicated to Cantonese genre throughout the decades, Hong Kong's Sunbeam Theatre is one of the last facilities that is still standing to exhibit Cantonese Opera.
By the early 1980s, Leung Hon-wai was one of the first in his generation of the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong (hkbarwo) who gave classes and actively engaged in talent-hunting. The Cantonese Opera Academy of Hong Kong classes started in 1980.
To intensify education in Cantonese opera, they started to run an evening part-time certificate course in Cantonese Opera training with assistance from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in 1998. In 1999, the Association and the Academy further conducted a two-year daytime diploma programme in performing arts in Cantonese Opera in order to train professional actors and actresses. Aiming at further raising the students' level, the Association and the Academy launched an advanced course in Cantonese opera in the next academic year.
In recent years, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council has given grants to the Love and Faith Cantonese Opera Laboratory to conduct Cantonese opera classes for children and young people. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has also funded the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong Branch) to implement the "Cultural Envoy Scheme for Cantonese Opera" for promoting traditional Chinese productions in the community.
Also, the Hong Kong Government planned to promote Cantonese Opera through different communication channels. They wanted to build more theatres for the Hong Kong public to have more opportunities to enjoy Cantonese Opera. The scheme also arrived to develop professional talents in Cantonese Opera. Cantonese Opera became a part of the compulsory Music subject in primary school. For teachers, the Education Bureau provided some training and teaching materials related to Cantonese Opera.
In the first decade of the Hong Kong Arts Festivals and the Festivals of Asian Arts, Cantonese opera performances contributed by those representing the lion share of the market, (well-established troupes, well-known performers Lang Chi Bak as well as Leung Sing Bor in their golden years or prominent performers in their prime) are:-
Fung Wong-nui (1925 - 1992)
Lam Kar Sing (1933 - 2015), bearer of the tradition handed down by Sit Gok Sin and owner of name brand/tradition (personal art over lucrative "for hire" careers in films or on stage) as well as volunteer tutor to two (1987, 2008) students handpicked right out of training schools
Obscure groups of experimental nature, let alone those late boomers without market value, were not on the map or in the mind of those organizing these events. That changed since the 40 something Leung Hon-wai found his way to the stepping stone or launching pad he desired for pet projects of various nature.
To continue the tradition by passing on what elders and veterans inherited from former generations and to improve sustainability with new and original music, lyrics and scripts.
Heritage is as abstract a concept as traditions is while monetary support is real. However, elders are not ombudspersons in any sense and they take public funds for their own reasons. That is, they are knee deep in commercial performances even as a member of the above organizations.
A juren a century ago can be an adjunct associate professor now in Hong Kong. How business was conducted in a community by a juren was illustrated by Ma Sze Tsang in a film called the Big Thunderstorm (1954).
Trend-setting figure, Leung Hon-wai, talked on camera about his doctrine related to new repertoires he wrote and monetary backings from the various Hong Kong authorities. That is, art festivals provided him financial means, identity, advertising resources and opportunities not otherwise available. Curious audience makes good box-office for the only 2-3 shows of a single new title. In addition, he only paid 50% to collect the new costumes in his procession for future performances of different repertoires.
A Sit Kok Sin classic fetched HK$105,200 plus in 2015. The parents who had over 100 years of experience combined found sharing the stage with their son as not feasible without subsidies for Golden Will Chinese Opera Association and Wan Fai-yin, Christina.
Time To Go Home is different from those Leung debuted at arts festivals since:-
In 2019, Yuen Siu Fai talked on radio that he found the readily available funding made beneficiaries financially irresponsible, unlike himself and others who put their own money where their mouths were. Yuen, who works regularly for troupes with secure public funding, did not draw a link between his two roles.
Contrary to Africa, the entire village is responsible for raising the children of a certain crowd only. Both political and social guanxi is making or breaking the future of up-and-coming performers in the same way as whether Bak Yuk Tong is remembered as one of the Four Super Stars or not. According to Yuen, Bak is anti-communist and therefore his status is different in Mainland China (PRC).
In 2019, Yuen Siu Fai said that old performers are to stay front and center on stage as long as they want to take center stage instead of sharing, let alone ceding, the limelight to the next or even younger generations. Yuen insists that performers without bags under their eyes could not be any good.
In 2018, Law Kar Ying said Chan Kam Tong had already jumped the shark in the mid-1950s, more than ten years before Chan actually left the stage or more than 60 years for it to be confirmed to the public. The (Yuen, Law and others) generation with bags under their eyes picked up where Leung left off. By such, these old performers are upholding the Chan tradition and making up records along the way. However, the Chan caliber of masters needed no directors.
Two performers Chan worked with closely, who definitely left the stage at will with dignity, are Yam Kim Fai and Fong Yim Fun. They both openly rebuked (in 1969 and in 1987 respectively in no harsher way than what Lam Kar Sing and his wife did in 1983) individual off-springs who were under their wings briefly but officially. The popularity of Yam-Fong in Hong Kong continues to thrive notwithstanding their apparent lack of official successors as Loong Kim Sang and Lee Bo Ying picked up where they left off.
Cantonese opera in Hong Kong rocketed around 1985/86, according to Li Jian, born Lai Po Yu, (,), an observer. De facto successors to master performers, Lee Bo Ying, Lam Kar Sing, and Loong Kim Sang all left the stage in or before 1993, last watershed moment of Cantonese opera for Hong Kong and beyond in the 20th century. The consequences are also significant and long lasting. Unlike Fong and Loong, Yam and Lee never returned.
For the rest of her life, Yam didn't even take the bow at curtain calls although she was in the audience on most days that Loong's troupe performed in Hong Kong. Comfortable enough around Yam, Yuen called Yam lazy because she did not comment on some cake served backstage in those days.
Local Teochew opera troupes lost their ground regarding live-on-stage Ghost Festival opera performances when the business environment was destroyed. Since then, the Teochew category disappeared in Hong Kong.
Chan Kim-seng, the former chairperson of Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, saw similar threats towards Cantonese opera and fought tooth and nail for job security of members. Chan, Representative Inheritor of Cantonese opera in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, passed away on 19 August 2013.
Cantonese opera shares many common characteristics with other Chinese theatre genres. Commentators often take pride in the idea that all Chinese theatre styles are similar but with minor variations on the pan-Chinese music-theatre tradition and the basic features or principles are consistent from one local performance form to another. Thus, music, singing, martial arts, acrobatics and acting are all featured in Cantonese opera. Most of the plots are based on Chinese history and famous Chinese classics and myths. Also, the culture and philosophies of the Chinese people can be seen in the plays. Virtues (like loyalty, love, patriotism and faithfulness) are often reflected by the operas.
Some particular features of Cantonese opera are:
The four skills and five methods are a simple codification of training areas that theatre performers must master and a metaphor for the most well-rounded and thoroughly-trained performers. The four skills apply to the whole spectrum of vocal and dramatic training: singing, acting/movements, speech delivery, and martial/gymnastic skills; while the five methods are categories of techniques associated with specific body parts: hands, eyes, body, hair, and feet/walking techniques.
The acting, acrobat, music and singing, live on stage, are well known as essential characteristics of live performances in theaters. Recordings did not replace the human voice backstage behind prop only when choir members were actually introduced to the audience at curtain call.
Before widespread formal education, Cantonese opera taught morals and messages to its audiences rather than being solely entertainment. The government used theatre to promote the idea of be loyal to the emperor and love the country (?). Thus, the government examined the theatre frequently and would ban any theatre if a harmful message was conveyed or considered. The research conducted by Lo showed that Cantonese Operatic Singing also relates older people to a sense of collectivism, thereby contributing to the maintenance of interpersonal relationships and promoting successful ageing. (Lo, 2014). Young people construct the rituals of learning Cantonese opera as an important context for their personal development.
Cantonese opera is a kind of Operas of Deities. Operas for Deities are often performed in celebration of folk festivals, birthdays of deities, establishments or renovations of altars and temples. A community organises a performance of opera, which is used to celebrate the birth of the gods or to cooperate with the martial arts activities, such as "Entertaining People and Entertaining God" and "God and People". These performances can be called " Operas for Deities ". This king of acting originated from the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty. It was also called the scared drama in the performance of God's birthday. It is a meritorious deed for God. According to the study, most of the Cantonese operas in Hong Kong belong to the Operas for Deities, and the nature of the preparations of the "God Circus" can be broadly divided into three categories: the celebration of the gods, the Hungry Ghost Festival, the Taiping Qing Dynasty, the temple opening and the traditional festival celebrations. In the 1960s -1970s, the Chinese opera was at a low ebb. However, due to the support of Opera for Deities, some of the troupes can be continue to perform. In the 1990s, the total performance rate of Operas for Deities has been reduced from two-thirds to two-fifths in the 1980s, there is no such thing as a performance in the Cantonese opera industry.
There are two types of Cantonese opera plays: Mou (?, "martial arts") and Man (?, "highly educated", esp. in poetry and culture). Mou plays emphasize war, the characters usually being generals or warriors. These works contain action scenes and involve a lot of weaponry and armour. Man plays tend to be gentler and more elegant. Scholars are the main characters in these plays. Water sleeves are used extensively in man plays to produce movements reflecting the elegance and tenderness of the characters; all female characters wear them. In man plays, characters put a lot of effort into creating distinctive facial expressions and gestures to express their underlying emotions.
The Daan (?; Dan) are female roles. The different forms of female characters are:
The Zing (?; Jing) are known for painted-faces. They are often male characters such as heroes, generals, villains, gods, or demons. Painted-faces are usually:
Some characters with painted-faces are:
The Cau (?; Chou) are clownish figures. Some examples are:
Major Cantonese Opera (Stage) Career Artists include:
The Female Leads ():
Four Great Male Vocals ():
Four Super Stars (?):
Four Super Clowns (Cau) (?):
Famous Female Vocal Styles (?):
The Male Leads ():
Applying makeup for Cantonese opera is a long and specialized process. One of the most common styles is the "white and red face": an application of white foundation and a red color around the eyes that fades down to the bottom of cheeks. The eyebrows are black and sometimes elongated. Usually, female characters have thinner eyebrows than males. There is black makeup around the eyes with a shape similar to the eyes of a Chinese phoenix (; fung6 ngaan5). Lipstick is usually bright red (; hau2 seon4 gou1).
A female-role actress is in the processes of applying her markup: spreading a creamy. foundation on her cheeks and forehead; putting blusher on her cheeks, eyelids and both sides of the nose; darling her eyebrows and drawing eye-lines and eye-shadows; pasting hairpieces around her face to create an oval-shaped look; lipstick has been put on prior to this; placing hairpins on the hairpiece.
Actors are given temporary facelifts by holding the skin up with a ribbon on the back of the head. This lifts the corners of the eyes, producing an authoritative look.
Each role has its own style of make-up: the clown has a large white spot in the middle of his face, for example. A sick character has a thin red line pointing upwards in between his eyebrows. Aggressive and frustrated character roles often have an arrow shape fading into the forehead in between the eyebrows (; jing1 hung4 zi1).
Strong male characters wear "open face" (; hoi1 min4) makeup. Each character's makeup has its own distinct characteristics, with symbolic patterns and coloration.
Costumes correspond to the theme of the play and indicate the character being portrayed. Costumes also indicate the status of the characters. Lower-status characters, such as females, wear less elaborate dresses, while those of higher rank have more decorative costumes.
Prominent performers () listed above, playing the six main characters (generally a combination of 2 Sang, 2 Daan, Zing, and Cau), are usually supposed to pay for their own costumes. Over time, these performers would reinvest their income into their wardrobe which would give an indication of their success. A performer's wardrobe would be either sold or passed on to another performer upon retirement.
To career performers, sequin costumes are essential for festive performances at various "Bamboo Theatres" (). These costumes, passed from generation to generation of career performers, are priceless according to some art collectors. With time, the materials used for the costumes changed. From the 1950s to the 1960s, sequins were the most prevalent material used for designing the costumes. Nowadays, designers tends to use rhinestones or foil fabric (). Compared to sequins, rhinestones and foil fabric are lighter. However, many older generation performers continue to use sequins and they regard them as more eye-catching on stage.
Most of the costumes in Cantonese Opera come from traditional design. Since costume design is largely taught through apprenticeships, costume design remains largely constant. Some designers are taught the skill from family members, inheriting a particular style.
Hats and helmets signify social status, age and capability: scholars and officials wear black hats with wings on either side; generals wear helmets with pheasants' tail feathers; soldiers wear ordinary hats, and kings wear crowns. Queens or princesses have jeweled helmets. If a hat or helmet is removed, this indicates the character is exhausted, frustrated, or ready to surrender.
Hairstyles can express a character's emotions: warriors express their sadness at losing a battle by swinging their ponytails. For the female roles, buns indicated a maiden, while a married woman has a 'dai tau' (Chinese: ).
In the Three Kingdoms legends, Zhao Yun and especially Lü Bu are very frequently depicted wearing helmets with pheasants' tail feathers; this originates with Cantonese opera, not with the military costumes of their era, although it's a convention that was in place by the Qing Dynasty or earlier.
Commentators draw an essential distinction between sung and spoken text, although the boundary is a troublesome one. Speech-types are of a wide variety: one is nearly identical to standard conversational Cantonese, while another is a very smooth and refined delivery of a passage of poetry; some have one form or another of instrumental accompaniment while others have none; and some serve fairly specific functions, while others are more widely adaptable to variety of dramatic needs.
Cantonese opera uses Mandarin or Gu?n Huà (Cantonese: Gun1 Waa6/2) when actors are involved with government, monarchy, or military. It also obscures words that are taboo or profane from the audience. The actor may choose to speak any dialect of Mandarin, but the ancient Zh?ngzh?u (Chinese: ; Jyutping: Zung1 Zau1) variant is mainly used in Cantonese opera. Zh?ngzh?u is located in the modern-day Henan province where it is considered the "cradle of Chinese civilization" and near the Yellow River. Gu?n Huà retains many of the initial sounds of many modern Mandarin dialects, but uses initials and codas from Middle Chinese. For example, the words ? and ? are both pronounced as /tsoe:/ (Jyutping: zoeng1) in Modern Cantonese, but will respectively be spoken as /t/ (pinyin: ) and /t?i?/ (pinyin: ) in operatic Gu?n Huà. Furthermore, the word ? is pronounced as /k?m/ (Jyutping: gam1) in modern Cantonese and /t?in/ (pinyin: ) in standard Mandarin, but operatic Gu?n Huà will use /kim/ (pinyin: ). However, actors tend to use Cantonese sounds when speaking Mandarin. For instance, the command for "to leave" is and is articulated as /sa: tsy/ in operatic Gu?n Huà compared to /ha: h?y / (Jyutping: haa6 heoi3) in modern Cantonese and /?i? ty?/ (pinyin: ) in standard Mandarin.
Cantonese opera pieces are classified either as "theatrical" or "singing stage" (). The theatrical style of music is further classified into western music () and Chinese music (). While the "singing stage" style is always Western music, the theatrical style can be Chinese or western music. The "four great male vocals" (?) were all actresses and notable exponents of the "singing stage" style in the early 20th century.
The western music in Cantonese opera is accompanied by strings, woodwinds, brass plus electrified instruments. Lyrics are written to fit the play's melodies, although one song can contain multiple melodies, performers being able to add their own elements. Whether a song is well performed depends on the performers' own emotional involvement and ability.
Cantonese instrumental music was called ching yam before the People's Republic was established in 1949. Cantonese instrumental tunes have been used in Cantonese opera, either as incidental instrumental music or as fixed tunes to which new texts were composed, since the 1930s.
The use of instruments in Cantonese opera is influenced by both western and eastern cultures. The reason for this is that Canton was one of the earliest places in China to establish trade relationships with the western civilizations. In addition, Hong Kong was under heavy western influence when it was a British colony. These factors contributed to the observed western elements in Cantonese opera.
The musical instruments are mainly divided into melodic and percussive types.
Traditional musical instruments used in Cantonese opera include wind, strings and percussion. The winds and strings encompass erhu, gaohu, yehu, yangqin, pipa, dizi, and houguan, while the percussion comprises many different drums and cymbals. The percussion controls the overall rhythm and pace of the music, while the gaohu leads the orchestra. A more martial style features the use of the suona.
The instrumental ensemble of Cantonese opera is composed of two sections: the melody section and the percussion section. The percussion section has its own vast body of musical materials, generally called lo gu dim () or simply lo gu (). These 'percussion patterns' serve a variety of specific functions.