Hong Kong strives to revive Cantonese Opera's heyday

Thu Dec 3, 2009 3:48am EST
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Hong Kong artist Christie To is only 16, but her aspirations to stardom are rooted in a centuries-old art form fighting extinction: Cantonese opera.

In frenetic, capitalist Hong Kong, where Cantopop and film stars hold most sway over teenagers, To is a rarity.

Cast in the main role of a man for a professional production of "Fearless Sword," normally performed by older actors, To is one of ten young Cantonese Opera artists who've been striving to resurrect the ancient Chinese art form with modern audiences.

"We're trying to make Cantonese opera more youthful, to change impressions that it's an art for the old only," said Christie's mother, Marilyn To, who heads the government-funded Hong Kong young talent Cantonese opera troupe.

"There must be new life and the younger generation needs to take up the baton."

Cantonese opera, one of the major categories of Chinese opera, targets tens of millions of people speaking the lively dialect, mostly in south China's Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, including the cities of Hong Kong and Macau.

Following a golden age in the 1950s and 60s when the leading practitioners of Cantonese opera -- which involves singing, acting and sometimes martial arts -- spilled into Hong Kong from China, the indigenous art form has been on a steady decline.

"My heart has slowly been turning grey," said old master Man Chin-Shui who has devoted 60-years of his life to practicing and teaching Cantonese opera, mostly in Hong Kong. "To revive Cantonese opera again in Hong Kong will be very difficult."   Continued...