A Night at the Cantonese Opera: The Teacher, Stella Ma
Stella Ma is the director of Cha Duk Chang Children’s Cantonese Opera Association, which has taught Cantonese opera classes to children aged 4-12 since 1997. A firm believer in the positive effect of Cantonese opera on child development, she shares her passion with children through teaching the craft.
HK Magazine: Why teach kids about Cantonese opera?
Stella Ma: I have always considered Cantonese opera the perfect platform for children to learn about the values and knowledge that can make them a wholesome person. Studying Cantonese opera requires learning Chinese music, physical education, art and history. For the scene to grow healthily, we have to teach people to appreciate the art, starting when they are young.
HK: How do you get such young children to understand this complex art?
SM: Cantonese opera can be all about perfecting the craft, that’s true. People spend years trying to become the best of the best, and the dialogues themselves can be almost poetry-like. Yet, if we want everyone to enjoy the art, why not simplify it to a level that even children can enjoy? Opera can be actually a very inclusive art; it can accommodate different kinds of music, even pop songs! We were able to change the lyrics of some well-known nursery rhymes and fit them back into the story. This doesn’t make it any less opera-like, though: Even early as the 1960s, Cantonese opera actors incorporated western songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” into their shows. This is not innovation, but the way Cantonese opera has always been: versatile and inclusive.
Photo: Cha Duk Chang
HK: What can kids learn from Cantonese opera?
SM: On stage, they are not merely sons or daughters: They are given the opportunity to let their personalities shine through the stage. Children are always boisterous, full of energy and mischievous—they can be just like that even when performing. That is what the audiences enjoy the most. We always tell the children that those who study Cantonese opera are capable of enduring pain. They have to wear bulky clothes, and tie a tight knot around the forehead to keep the headpieces and accessories stable. They have to endure hours of training as well, but they all overcome it with iron resolution.
The Veteran: Sun Kim-long
The Playwright: Man Wah
The New Blood: Yuen Tak-man
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