Chinese opera can expect a boost under a plan to set up a controlling body to promote the traditional performing art. The proposal came as government arts organisers hailed the success of the recent Chinese Opera Festival. Full houses were reported for many performances in the 23-day festival with seating filled to an average of 80 per cent of capacity. The $12 million event, the biggest of its kind in Hong Kong, was the fourth of the Provisional Urban Council's biennial theme festivals of Chinese performing arts which began six years ago. The proposal for an umbrella group came in a consultancy report published by the Arts Development Council. The study, by Coopers and Lybrand, suggested much greater funding for Chinese opera, particularly Cantonese and Beijing opera. As part of an overall review of funding, Coopers and Lybrand suggested setting up an umbrella body that could fund a venue dedicated to Chinese opera, train new opera talent and help opera companies perform educational work. Council chairman Vincent Chow Wing-shing said: 'We realise people would like to see something being done to conserve and develop Chinese operatic arts - the question is what is the best and most effective way of going about it.' Senior manager of the Urban Services Department's festivals office Lo Tak-sing yesterday said: 'The response so far to the opera festival has been very encouraging and it is beyond our expectation.' Among the best-received shows were Cantonese opera, Beijing opera, Chiu Chow opera and Shanghai comedy. Mr Lo said the audience comprised equal proportions of young and old opera fans. 'That is a good sign that Chinese opera has become more popular in Hong Kong. We now have a more balanced composition of audience than we had 20 or 30 years ago when not many Hong Kong people appreciated the art,' he said. He admitted ticket revenue covered only between half to 60 per cent of the festival's cost. However, he said the expense represented a long-term investment in promoting people's appreciation of the arts. 'We are not commercial operators and from the very beginning we had not thought of making profit from the festival,' he added. Apart from opera performances, the festival had offered free seminars, workshops and talks, he said. Eighteen mainland troupes and 26 other groups were invited to the festival.