Bangkok’s Chinatown: a night at the opera

Fri Feb 19, 2016 9:11am EST
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By Jorge Silva

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Battles, a search for love and justice, all set in China. Hired by local Chinese shrines, opera companies in Bangkok’s Chinatown perform mythical stories in Mandarin to round off celebrations marking the Lunar New Year in the Thai capital.

The wobbly wooden planks creak as the actors perform, moving from makeshift stage to stage. Among the audience, children look captivated, including a boy wearing a Barcelona soccer strip while his neighbor holds chopsticks and a bag of street food.

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Chinese opera has a long pedigree in Thailand, home to the largest overseas Chinese community in the world. The Chinatown cast, a mix of Chinese and Thai performers, range from a seasoned actor of more than 30 years, to a 7-year-old girl.

“Every time I get nervous and excited,” says the girl, Vonvai, who began performing two months ago. “I want to perform well and enjoy it. I try to get better each time.”

Hours before going on stage, performers in these operas, which blend music, legend and drama, start to apply their elaborate make-up, while the baby of a cast member sleeps backstage.

Offstage, musicians follow the dream-like action while playing traditional Chinese instrument including drums, plates and flutes. The operas combine colourful costumes, elaborate sets, with dialogue and singing that tell tales of tragedy and comedy alike.

Nappapat Natee, 25, part of the Yong Hong Troupe, has been involved in Chinese opera for 10 years. She typically performs the role of a warrior. Occasionally she plays a character such as the emperor or his mother.   Continued...

A Chinese opera actress carries her baby backstage before the start of a performance in Chinatown in Bangkok February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva