Cantonese Opera grand master dies in Hong Kong at age 92

Fung Wah, who was born in Foshan and moved to the city in the late 1940s, represented the old operatic school

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2017, 5:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2017, 10:57pm

The direct lineage of the old Cantonese operatic school has ended with the passing of its grand master.

Fung Wah, a renowned leader of Cantonese operatic troupes since the 1950s, died of pneumonia at Our Lady of Maryknoll Hospital on Monday night. He was 92 and is survived by his wife and three daughters.

“What is gone with my father is the old style of Cantonese music based on intuitive playing and instantaneous music-making with solo singers,” said Fung Chui-yu, a renowned singer and the oldest of Fung’s three daughters.

“The music flow was varied but father knew how to lead and keep all the voices in unison and in balance even without a music score,” she added.

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The head of Central Library, Jim Chang Hok-yan, echoed Fung Chui-yu’s thoughts: “Master Fung was the disciple of Lui Man-sing and Wan Chi-chung, both dubbed kings of Cantonese music in the 1930s, who imparted their skills through performance rather than textbooks.”

“We approached the master 10 years ago hoping to learn his style and that of his mentors, but we got nothing. Perhaps the score sheet did not exist,” Chang, himself a musician, added.

Born in Foshan in 1924, Fung Wah grew up under the influence of his mother, a Cantonese operatic singer. He studied violin with Wan Chi-chung and made his debut as a troupe leader in Jiangmen in the early 1940s.

He arrived in Hong Kong in the late 1940s and studied erhu under Lui Man-sing, who took him as his godson. Fung also taught himself the saxophone, jazz drums and xylophone.

In the 1950s, Fung performed regularly with Cantonese opera legends such as Hung Sin-nui and Sun Ma Si-zeng, who developed their singing styles with Fung.

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In the 1960s, Fung led his ensemble in tea-house performances and in the studio recording music for Cantonese films. He also founded his own recording company issuing recordings of his band and his music.

Fung emigrated to Canada in 1989 and taught music to the Chinese community in Toronto for which the government there gave him an outstanding achievement award.

“He missed his students and students’ students so he returned to Hong Kong quite often, most of the time teaching for free,” his daughter said.

“Father reminded me to sing not as an entertainer but as an artist. That I will forever remember,” she added.