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Global Perspective: Backstage at the Opera

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The pennants on the costume indicate a high ranking soldier, while the arrow shape between his eyebrows suggests an aggressive character.
Caroline Chan
The pennants on the costume indicate a high ranking soldier, while the arrow shape between his eyebrows suggests an aggressive character.


To the untrained ear and eye, Cantonese Opera is bewildering. It’s a highly stylized art form that dates back perhaps eight hundred years and involves complex costumes, elaborate make-up and hair, formalized gestures, story lines from Chinese history and legend along with a vocal style that has almost no common ground with the Western tradition. 

Even in modern Hong Kong, with a population more attuned to hip-hop and Cantopop, the genre can seem remote and difficult. There are audiences, but they are ageing, with most fans over sixty.

The emphasis now is on creating a young audience comfortable with the conventions of Cantonese Opera, although this may mean skipping a generation  - those who are children now are more likely to be the fans of the future than their parents.

RTHK Producer Caroline Chan meets some of those involved in education and hears the story of Li Pui-yan, who gave up a home and hi-tech career in New York for a life of performing in Hong Kong. 

“Backstage at the Opera” was produced and presented for Radio Television Hong Kong by Caroline Chan. Photos courtesy of Caroline Chan.


RTHK 2011 Global Perspective Series


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