Saturday, 12 July 2014

Cantonese Opera comes to London

The renowned  Cantonese Opera singer Yuen Siu-fai (阮兆輝 ) is bringing top quality Cantonese opera to London on 4th August (details here). Masters of this calibre don't often come to the west. This will be a unique experience. Yuen is bringing his own troupe, the Spring Glory Cantonese Opera Workshop.   They will be performing short extracts from four operas - Loyalty under the Sun, The Assassin, The Celebration of Good Times (a duet) and The Princess in Distress. Each of these pieces will illustrate an aspect of the Cantonese opera tradition, so much to learn as well as enjoy. The evening will be free of charge but it's very high level indeed. In Hong Kong Yuen's workshops cost a lot. There'll also be explanations in English, though the singing will be Cantonese. A lot of the physical gestures are stylized, so the shows should be easy enough to follow even though non-Cantonese speakers will miss out on the poetry of the Cantonese language. It's organized through the True Heart Theatre, who have been creating since 2006 a platform for British Chinese voices to be seen and  heard through work in mainstream scripted productions and in applied theatre contexts.

Yuen trained under the even more famous master Mak Bing Wing. Like most Cantonese opera singers, he trained not only in classical opera singing but also in martial arts. Theyre all part of a wider cultural continuum, very different from the narrow definitions of western opera. Martial arts aren't about fighting but about mental and physical discipline. Yuen (born 1945) also did straight drama, acting in films. One of his signature roles was the boy Little Shrimpy in Father and Son (父與子, 1954)  one of the seminal classics of Cantonese cinema. Yuen was only 7 years old then and his voice was still squeaky, but already his stage presence and intelligence shine through.  Please read my analysis of the film here.

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