Cantonese Opera Day Celebrates 15th Anniversary

This year, Hong Kongers will be treated to the 15th anniversary of Cantonese Opera Day, a celebration of the art form that ties in with local culture and tradition. It’s among the most popular performance festivals in the region.

Organised by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Cantonese Opera Day is a government initiative meant to expand the art form for fans and newcomers. In fact, it has been inscribed onto the Unesco List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2009.

The free event will see performances of excerpts from Cantonese opera classics including “Purple Bamboo Forest” from “Merciless Sword Under Merciful Heaven” and “Saving Pei” from “The Reincarnation of a Beauty.” It will also feature talks on the stylised movements and postures adopted in Cantonese operas as well as on the singing styles and musical instruments used. Performing artists will include Lee Lung, Nam Fung, Sun Kim-long.

Hilvinn Wong Hai-wing tells the South China Morning Post that opera has been a part of her life from a very young age. Now at age 32, she will take the stage at the Cultural Centre this November 17th for a performance of “Kneeling by the Pond” – an excerpt from the Ming dynasty drama “Henpecked Husband.”

“My mother took me to see Cantonese opera performances at bamboo theatres when I was a child,” Hilvinn says. “Every time when there was a show, I wanted to go. We would eat snacks and we got to stay out late. But I had no idea what was happening on stage. I just thought it was beautiful and alluring.”

However, some artists say that childhood connection is stalling in modern Hong Kong society.

“As young artists, we must run an extra mile to promote the arts of Cantonese opera among the young generation,” she says.

Dennis Wan Chi-hung, 22, who will be taking part in the performance of “Merciless Sword Under Merciful Heaven” tells the paper that he was also exposed to the art form at a very young age. His father Wan Yuk-yu is also a Cantonese opera artist.

“But when I was in school, from kindergarten all the way to secondary school and university, there was little to no exposure to the art form,” Dennis says. “Students should be taught about the art form. Whether they like it or not, it’s up to them. But at least we will have a chance to have [a bigger] audience. Without an audience, we will not be able to survive.

According to the the Arts Development Council’s latest annual arts survey the audience for Chinese opera, including Cantonese opera programmes have dropped by 1.3 percent between 2015 and 2016 despite an increase in performances in that same period.

About Andrew Burke 145 Articles
Editor-in-Chief Andrew Burke is a lifelong aficionado of all things Chinese. He studied Mandarin while living in Taiwan for six years and now works as a digitization specialist at the Yenching Library, which specializes in Asian books and documents, at Harvard University where he also studies topics related to China, Chinese, Asia and foreign affairs.