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A MUST when in HK: Experiencing Cantonese Opera

Chinese opera, also known as Peking opera, is a traditional form of Chinese theatre that combines music, dance, and acting. It is one of the most popular and influential forms of opera in the world and has been performed for centuries. Chinese opera is known for its elaborate costumes, detailed makeup, and highly stylized performances which include some acrobatic feats as well. The origins of Chinese opera can be traced back to the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE) when music and dance were used in religious ceremonies. During the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), these performances evolved into more secular forms of entertainment, and by the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), Chinese opera had become a fully developed art form.

In Pic:1st Page of the Cantonese Opera Poster

The Hong Kong Tourism Board is hosting the Chinese Opera Festival 2023. From the program. We got excited about it and some our LocalHood Website volunteers, Saravanan, Winnie, Arnaud and Priscilla were excited to attend a Cantonese Opera and experience the sights, sounds and atmosphere first-hand just like the locals.

Before going, we wanted to understand the difference between Chinese Opera and Cantonese Opera. Through Google we understood that Chinese Opera is mostly performed in Mandarin or other regional dialects, while Cantonese Opera is performed in Cantonese. This gives Cantonese Opera a distinct regional identity and sound.

Like Chinese opera it is a traditional form of Chinese theatre that combines music, dance, and acting.

There is debate about the origins of Cantonese opera. It is believed that opera was brought from the northern part of China and slowly migrated to the southern province of Guangdong in the late 13th century, during the late Southern Song dynasty.

In Pic: Some LocalHood Website Volunteers (a Dutch, a HKger, A malaysian and a French) at a Chinese Opera in CWB Cantonese opera is performed by a troupe of actors, who play a variety of roles, including male and female characters, as well as gods, demons, and animals. It is interesting to note that Beijing opera specialises in war and power while Cantonese opera tends to focus more on love stories.

The costumes and makeup are also very elaborate and help to create the characters' personalities and emotions. Cantonese opera was inscribed into UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. Chinese Opera also serves as a way of communicating power and status. Historically, emperors and other nobles enjoyed opera from their private boxes, where their presence signalled that they were powerful and wealthy. Additionally, the makeup and costumes of Chinese Opera are highly symbolic. They represent aspects of each character, such as skin colour, social status, and personality traits. Performers need to convey these details to the audience through their movements. Elaborate makeup is one of the most distinguishing features of Chinese Opera. Different colours, shapes, and symbols represent each character's attributes and personality. The makeup can also change to reflect the character's mood or transformation.

In Pic: Glimpses of the Opera

So back to our visit: Having reached the park, we made our way to the venue where the opera takes place. I could not believe the efforts they had put in for this show as the stage was constructed from scratch and it was all done using bamboo! What a feat! It has been a wonderful experience having the opportunity to watch the Cantonese opera with the locals in our neighborhood park.

In Pic: Decorations for event at the Victoria Park

As always, we stood out from the crowd as we were the very few foreigners and that made the whole experience even more exciting. The staff were as friendly as they can be and they showed us to our seats and did so with so many others. Waiting for the show to begin, we were happy to see a couple of screens provided to display the surtitles (not to be mistaken with subtitles) both in English and Cantonese. And so the show began! With a bang and traditional musicians accompanying the actors! The storyline was pretty easy to follow and there were short breaks in between scenes. What made the show even more exciting was the fact that not only did the story have drama and plot twists, but it also had scandalous affairs! Oh, the tea! Overall, the whole affair was an experience that one should not miss! The fact that the venue was outdoors and the stage was constructed using bamboo made it feel more authentic and traditional in some sense.

It was a truly exciting experience and I strongly suggest the readers definitely catch a show if possible. The Hong Kong Tourism Board currently has the Chinese Opera Festival running till the 8th of October 2023. There are also various venues like the Xiqu Centre, Yau Ma Tei Theatre as well as Hong Kong Heritage museum are a few of the places to name a few where you can watch these shows.


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