Fans vow to keep up call for Island opera venue

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2012, 12:00am


Cantonese opera enthusiasts vowed yesterday to keep pushing the government to build a permanent venue for the art form on Hong Kong Island.

The vow came as opera fans celebrated a reprieve for North Point's landmark Sunbeam Theatre after a last-minute, four-year deal between the landlord and a new tenant.

But the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Chinese Opera and Performing Arts Group Association, Jennifer Chow Kit-bing, last night accused the government of failing to offer any help to save the theatre.

'What we saw was the government officials just sit back and watch,' Chow said.

'If the government is sincere in promoting the art form, it should have done something to help negotiate an acceptable deal sooner.'

This is not the first time the theatre has won a temporary reprieve. In 2009, the year Cantonese opera was included on the Unesco list of intangible cultural heritage, the rent for the theatre's previous tenant was raised from HK$490,000 to HK$698,000 a month, prompting the government to step in and offer HK$3.6 million in subsidies.

But this time, the government did not intervene.

The Home Affairs Bureau had said it would focus more on public venues for the art form, rather than on privately run ones. The government has also suggested that more venues will be made available when the West Kowloon Cultural District development is completed.

But Chow said West Kowloon was not the answer. 'We need something more accessible to the laymen. Many fans are elderly people and they live on the Island side.'

Still, what was to be farewell party turned into a victory parade yesterday, when dozens of fans met at the theatre and walked along King's Road to share news of the renewed lease.

'Sunbeam is our collective memory,' septuagenarian Ms Ip said.

Two lawmakers dressed in opera costumes joined the crowd and criticised the government for its lack of action on the issue.

'It's both disappointing and annoying that the government completely did nothing to rescue Sunbeam Theatre,' legislator Wong Kwok-hing said.