Cantonese Opera Treasures

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 February, 2010, 12:00am

Grand Theatre, HK Cultural Centre
Feb 25 to 27, 7.30pm

Now that the traditional art form is recognised by Unesco as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, it is apt the Hong Kong Arts Festival should open with a Cantonese Opera extravaganza this year.

Gathering the best in the business, including Law Kar-yin, Yuen Siu-fai, Yau Sing-po, Leung Hon-wai, Wan Fei-yin, Yam Bing-yee, Chan Ho-kau and Sun Kim-long, this Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong production will feature three double-bills of rarely performed set pieces and seminal classics including The Imperial Emperor of Heaven Holding Court, Luk Long Reprimands His Son and Princess Changping.

According to the festival, the set piece is a unique part of the Cantonese opera repertoire. In the old days, the custom was to start a new performance series with dedicated set pieces that would otherwise not be performed on their own. Different occasions - when the performance is staged as an offering to the gods, for instance - call for different set pieces. And these are no small presentations as they featured the full troupe, showing off the troupe's strengths and resources to attract the audience.

The Imperial Emperor of Heaven Holding Court was a standard set piece presented at festivals that start during the day, while Birthday Feast on the Mountain of Fragrant Flowers - which will be staged on February 26 - was performed once a year to celebrate the Cantonese opera patron saint Wah Kong's birthday.

Set pieces are most noteworthy for retaining the original form of music, singing and performance routines of early Cantonese opera. Sung in classical dialect, its dialogue differs greatly from colloquial Cantonese. The classical dialect is a mixture of dialects from provinces outside Guangdong, suggesting that Cantonese opera might be a hybridisation of regional opera brought in by travelling troupes, probably in the 15th century. It was only in the past century that the classical dialect was gradually replaced by Cantonese as we know it today.

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