Siu Leung LI and Siu Wah YU
2020, Hong Kong Chinese opera’s year of mischance (for that matter, same to all performing arts and other arts fields). Since early 2020, COVID-19 quickly turned a global pandemic causing lockdowns of almost everything. A year back, 2019, Hong Kong Chinese opera enjoyed a blossoming year beginning with the January grand opening of the magnificent West Kowloon Cultural District Xiqu Centre. 2020, the industry was like being thrown into an apocalyptic dystopia of contagion. New productions, large scale shows, ritual drama performances, overseas and non-local troupes’ visits, educational and promotional activities were all drastically shrunk, rescheduled, relocated to virtual space, or simply cancelled. COVID-19 cancelled culture, in a sense, amongst other things in everyday life. Hong Kong Chinese opera practitioners have been syncretic, flexible, and enduring in face of the devastating pandemic. Some turned more to social media platforms, some grabbed any chance of face-to-face meeting live audiences whenever circumstances allowed, and some strived for raising fund to help sustain the industry.
With COVID-19 entering the stage in the role of a game changer, Hong Kong Xiqu Overview 2020 opens with a general review chapter, followed by another chapter listing the year’s important events in the shadow of the pandemic. In the third chapter Lum Man Yee traces the origins and transformations of ritual drama, consulting primitive sources as far back to the 11th century, and examines the current existential conditions of this old tradition. Based on her fieldwork in 2019 and 2020, Lum examines how the local Chinese opera industry has been debilitated by COVID-19, and the industry’s response to this incessant pandemic with various tactics of survival. Chan Yee Lam in the fourth chapter reflects on the private sector’s contributions to the transmission of the art of Chinese opera. Attention was paid to the pandemic’s impact on these private groups’ survival. Chan summarized their technological tackling of the challenges, marking aspects of how the transmission of Chinese opera was still being managed in the time of COVID-19. The last chapter by Arthur Pang reviews Hong Kong Chinese opera’s artistic-administrative practices, contrasting the Chinese opera programs in 2019 and 2020 with respect to social stability and instability, and mapping the strategies of programming regional Chinese operas of the Chinese Opera Festival and the Xiqu Centre.
A stubborn cultural structure in Chinese opera for 800 years (counting from the maturation of traditional Chinese theatre in the Mongolian dynasty from the 13th century) is that, unlike European drama that has privileged tragedy since the ancient Greeks, there is necessarily, almost always a happy ending. Even when occasionally there emerged a play with a sad ending in which good people suffered and got unjustly killed in tragic sublime, the dejected ending will be altered and replaced by a comic resolution in later adaptations with a full happy reunion. Thus lived Hong Kong Chinese opera.
Siu Leung LI and Siu Wah YU
Hong Kong Xiqu Overview 2019 is a project supported by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. The HKADC’s annual Overview series includes volumes on dance, theatre, music, and xiqu (Chinese opera). The overviews aim at recounting and documenting the important events, issues, and changes around individual art forms in the year.
The ebook Hong Kong Xiqu Overview 2019 is organized in two parts: “overview” and “special topics.”
The first two chapters constitute the overview part whereas each of the other three chapters deals with one topic that was selected for its significance relevant to the year being retold.
The first chapter “Hong Kong Chinese Opera Event Files 2019: A Year of Celebrations and Restlessness“ files the big events around the two focuses of jollification and unrest that shaped the year 2019 as special for the city’s Chinese opera. The second chapter “Selected Events, Hong Kong Chinese Opera 2019” is a compendium to the first chapter, listing notable events and activities in the eight categories of new productions; other significant productions; regional Chinese opera productions other than Cantonese opera; events celebrating the 10th anniversary of Cantonese opera’s entering on the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity; books publications, film, TV, online media; training and promotion; programs and events cancelled due to the anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill protests; others.
The three special-topic chapters cover three subjects; namely, the Xiqu Centre that opened in January 2019, genres of Cantonese operatic music, a survey of 14 books on Chinese opera published in 2019.
The chapter “Before Xiqu Centre, After Xiqu Centre” provides a larger social-cultural context for the coming into being of the Xiqu Centre in 2019. Putting the discussion in historical perspectives, the chapter examines issues of Chinese opera venues, the government’s cultural polices regarding performance venues, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority’s Chinese opera programming strategies, and the Xiqu Centre’s potential in effecting changes in the city’s translocal Chinese opera ecology.
“Four Genres of Cantonese Operatic Music Revisited: Daibayin, Narrative Singing, Cantonese Music, Cantonese Operatic Tunes Sung in Official Mandarin” is an ethnomusicological chapter reviewing the recent history of Cantonese music, Cantonese opera music, and Chinese music training to illustrate the complexity and diversified origins of music in Cantonese opera, with special reference to the 2019 musical event of “Guangdong Quadrangle” (an event in Hong Kong’s annual Chinese Opera Festival 2019) as an effort demonstrating the early forms of Cantonese music and Cantonese opera music.
“A Survey of 2019 Books on Chinese Opera,” the last chapter in the volume, overviews the numerous Chinese opera publications of the year—a year that saw fruitful and bountiful output in artistic and academic studies of the art form, covering topics from artists’ biographies, ritual drama, Cantonese operatic music and teaching materials, history of Chinese opera, Cantonese opera repertoire, textual studies of traditional Chinese drama, to Cantonese opera films. The chapter provides a comprehensive introduction to each of the selected 14 books, followed with comments from academic research and practical performance perspectives in the translocal context of Hong Kong, mainland China, and Taiwan.
Siu Leung LI (李小良) and Siu Wah YU (余少華)
Siu Leung LI (李小良) and Siu Wah YU (余少華)
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