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Amateur performance club keeps traditional cai luong opera alive

Update: January, 14/2014 - 09:44
Centre stage: Doan Thi Thu Huong (right) and her husband Nguyen Tai An rehearse on stage. The couple is part of an amateur cai luong club which brings together ordinary people who are passionate about the traditional art form. — Photo courtesy of Doan Thi Thu Huong

by Le Huong

After putting the finish-ing touches to her tied-up hair, and buttoning up her glittering, long silk dress, Doan Thi Thu Huong takes a deep breath and walks onto the stage.

Her husband, Nguyen Tai An, soon joins her onstage to enact his role. They are performing an excerpt from a classic cai luong (renovated opera) play from feudal times.

Hundreds of people watch attentively as they perform on the lit-up stage of Ha Noi Cai Luong Theatre, more commonly known as the Golden Bell Theatre, located in the heart of the Old Quarter. From time to time, the crowd bursts into applause at the middle-aged couple's skilful vocal rendition when they touch the high notes.

It's a normal Sunday gathering of amateur cai luong singers in the theatre, where they perform with the theatre's artists.

"My husband and I are just business people, yet we join the club on weekends to nurture our passion for the traditional art," Huong told Viet Nam News. "Life is so short. We are not rich but we enrich our souls with beautiful melodies. I think we are richer than even billionaires who have no real passion at all."

Like Huong, the other 40 members of the club are of all ages, from all walks of life, yet share the passion for the traditional art.

Seventy-something Do Thanh Tan is unable to hide her excitement while stepping off the stage.

"When I was young, I just admired artists from a distance," she said in a trembling voice. "It's like a miracle that at my age, I am getting a chance to perform with professional artists, just like a real artist."

Thanh Van, a 42-year-old woman, shared the same excitement.

"My husband and my children come to see my show and give me flowers," she said. "It's so much fun. I feel life is so wonderful and I feel much younger."

By organising such performances, club members bring together a variety of people to watch cai luong, including their family members, friends and acquaintances, said Tran Quang Hung, director of the theatre, who initiated the club.

"Through the club, we also discover cai luong talents for the professional stage," he said. "We have got two male artists from the amateur club. At the same time, the club helps fans understand professional artists more and vice-versa. Artists can pass on their passion and professional skills to fans to help them be more confident on stage."

"I have loved cai luong since I was a child," said Le Gia Thanh, who works as a manager at a construction enterprise. "I accidentally learnt about the club and quickly joined it. Here I have a chance to learn from professional artists and practise my favourite art."

Nguyen Thi Hong Gam, 50, revealed that she sings cai luong whenever she can: while cooking, running her small shop, keeping an eye on grandchildren and while driving from her house in Tu Liem District in the outskirts to the club.

"I think everyone can join the club for his or her love of the art," she said.

Among the members, Pham Thi Xuan Hong is a special case as her father is a playwright credited with penning several best-selling plays for the art during the 1970s.

Hong, who works at a centre for community health and development, and her husband have joined the club to follow the footprints of her father's passion.

"The art makes people come close to each other. After a night of staying up late to practise singing, we are refreshed and full of energy for a new working week. I hope the club will attract more members in the coming years," she said

The mother of four is proud to say that she is able to lure her children away from internet-linked computers to watch her shows at the theatre.

"The club is a good educational playground for my children," she said. "I'm afraid that after my generation, the art will be preserved only in museums and no one will be interested in listening and be able to sing the melodies."

Tran Quoc Chiem, deputy director of Ha Noi Culture, Sports and Tourism Department, praised the way the club attracts people to see cai luong, especially when they [the club] are receiving financial contributions from members rather than the State budget. — VNS

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