Tradition gets hip

Tradition gets hip


Edward Wong
Photo: Edward Wong

Cantonese opera duo out to prove their art is fun for all ages, writes Sunny Tse

If you think Cantonese opera is only for grandparents, Form Seven students Hyris Ma Hoi-yau and Roy Lo Hoi-yin would like to convince you otherwise.

Hyris and Roy, from St Paul's Secondary School and TWGHs Lui Yun Choy Memorial College respectively, were two of the few ambassadors involved in Cantonese opera in last term's Arts Ambassadors-in-school Scheme.

The pair believes the reason for the art's lack of popularity among youngsters isn't that it's boring, but the lack of promotion in schools and the community.

'Many people think Cantonese opera is something only the elderly understand,' says Roy.

'The public doesn't have the basic understanding of the genre to fully understand it, let alone appreciate it.'

'People should give Cantonese opera a chance,' adds Hyris. 'Learn the basics, go and see it, and then decide whether they like it.'

Hyris fell in love with Cantonese opera at a community event when she was seven. It was love at first listen. Rather than finding the singing ear-piercing, like many youngsters do, she was fascinated by the unique vocals and beautiful tunes. For a girl who was in the school choir and leaning the piano, the experience was utterly refreshing.

She then took Cantonese operatic singing lessons and started learning everything, from Chinese musical scales and tempo, to scores and singing style. But practising classical choral and operatic singing at the same time was a problem at first: the former requires a round, mellow voice, while the latter needs a loud and clear yet slightly strained voice.

'I soon adapted a singing style I was comfortable with. It's a mixture of both singing techniques. It's East-meets-West in my vocal cords,' says the 17 year-old.

'After all, you have to decide how to sing expressively and tell the stories.'

Roy had practised traditional Chinese arts like tai chi and calligraphy from a very young age, so stepping into Cantonese opera was just a matter of time. He joined a Cantonese opera troupe four years ago. For him, the most challenging, yet satisfying, aspects are the demanding physical training and acrobatic stunts. From kicks and backflips to sword fighting, the stunts require long hours of practice and extreme endurance.

'I've had countless injuries. My parents don't understand why I keep going when I have bruises all over my body. But the scars prove my determination,' Roy explains.

The pair says the colourful makeup and extravagant costumes of Cantonese opera should appeal to youngsters. And the historical stories and folk tales that make up most opera scripts teach Chinese culture and values - a bonus for parents.

Hyris says: 'My parents didn't know much about Cantonese opera before I started learning. Now they're crazier about it than I am.'

Roy's troupe frequently puts on shows that are tailor-made for young children. They have been getting positive feedback.

'We usually pick comedies with lots of action,' says Roy.

"We put on an uncomplicated version and try to tell the stories through dialogue, rather than singing or gestures which can be confusing. The children love it."

Organised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and co-organised by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, the Arts Ambassadors-in-school Scheme aims to nurture artistic talent in young people and promote art in the community. All arts ambassadors must be nominated by school principals before December 4.



Arts Ambasadors-in-school
Learn more about the Arts Ambassadors-in-School Scheme here




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