Viet Nam News
A drama project featuring cải lương (reformed opera), the traditional music genre of the south, will be completed this year following 15 years of writing and recording by a veteran HCM City artist and his young staff, Thu Anh reports.
HCM CITY — A drama project featuring cải lương (reformed opera), the traditional music genre of the south, will be completed this year following 15 years of writing and recording by a veteran HCM City artist and his young staff.
The project, 100 Năm Sân Khấu Cải Lương (A Hundred Years of Cải Lương Theatre), includes a series of shows featuring the history of the traditional music, songs and plays performed by veteran artists.
It has received support from the HCM City Television and HCM City Theatre Association, as well as many young and veteran performers of the city and southern provinces.
The project’s first show features five pioneers, Út Trà Ôn, Minh Cảnh, Diệp Lang, Ba Vân and Trường Xuân, all of whom were awarded the titles of People’s Artists and Meritorious Artist by the Government.
The show will include famous extracts from historical plays performed by these artists in the 1950s and 70s. Young performers will sing the original traditional tunes for theatre lovers.
“Our project preserves cải lương by recording and writing the events, the plays and artists of cải lương since the art began in Mỹ Tho in Tiền Giang Provinc,” said Meritorious Artist Thanh Điền of HCM City, the project’s founder. “We have travelled and talked with many cultural researchers and historians to optimise our project.”
“Our project also aims to restage famous plays that have been performed by different generations. We hope to encourage young people to learn more about traditional theatre,” he said.
Điền said that his project’s shows would offer tickets at affordable prices to serve students and labourers.
100 Năm Sân Khấu Cải Lương is the 72-year-old Điền’s biggest-ever drama project.
"I’m working to publish a book featuring all information and images I took while making the project,” said Điền, who believes cải lương is still loved by Vietnamese fans.
The first show of 100 Năm Sân Khấu Cải Lương is expected to be staged late this month at Trần Hữu Trang Theatre at 515-517 Trần Hưng Đạo Street in District 1.
Born to a traditional family in the Mekong Delta province of Tiền Giang, Điền began his career at an early age.
During his stage debut for the Trường Xuân Troupe in Long Xuyên in 1959, he bowled over the audience with his voice, looks and performance.
He later performed for the Hương Mùa Thu Troupe and Kim Chung Theatre, one of the region’s leading cải lương troupes, becoming one of its brightest stars.
Throwback theatre: A series of cải lương plays featuring Vietnamese women will be re-staged in the original style under the project called 100 Năm Sân Khấu Cải Lương (A Hundred Years of Cải Lương Theatre), launched by veteran artist Thanh Điền and his staff. VNS Photos
In 1974, he established his own troupe, Xuân Liên Hoa, which attracted young talents, including Thanh Kim Huệ, who later became his wife.
His strong and melodic voice and stage presence helped Điền leave an indelible mark on the art, enabling him to use his popularity to promote the art form.
In 1980, Điền and his wife moved to HCM City to work for the Sài Gòn Cải Lương Theatre.
Điền won his first gold prize for his role in Đêm Trắng (Sleepless Night), a play featuring the late President Hồ Chí Minh, at the National Professional Theatre Festival in 1990 in Hà Nội.
Điền has won several top prizes at theatre festivals and contests, including the Golden Prize for best theatre director at the 2003 National Television Festival in HCM City.
He has performed in more than 120 plays and dozens of videos and movies.
He now works as a lecturer at the Trần Hữu Trang Theatre and HCM City University of Theatre and Cinematography.
Plays about women
In his project, Điền will restage famous plays written by Trần Hữu Trang, who was the first to feature women as leading characters in cải lương.
Trang’s plays staged in the 1940s and 1950s, written in praise of Vietnamese women, are recognised as canonical cải lương and have been staged many times by different generations.
“I want to feature Trang and his role in the theatre’s developments,” said Điền, adding that though Trang has passed away, his art remains meaningful and fresh to audiences, particularly southerners.
Born in 1906 to a farmer family in Chợ Gạo District in Mỹ Tho Province (now Tiền Giang Province), Trang began his career in 1928, working for leading troupes in the southern region.
His first play, Lửa Đỏ Lòng Son (Mind in Fire), was about social problems. He created 30 works and all highlighted the virtues of Vietnamese women.
After the August Revolution in 1945, Trang joined the anti-French force and worked in Sài Gòn-Chợ Lớn.
After his death in 1966, Trang was posthumously awarded the Hồ Chí Minh Prize by the Government in 1996.
Under the project, Đời Cô Lựu (Miss Lựu’s Life) and Tô Ánh Nguyệt (Miss Tô Ánh Nguyệt), which were staged first in the 1930s, will be restaged by young artists of the Trần Hữu Trang Theatre, the region’s leading cải lương theatre (and named after Trang). Both plays feature women and their challenges and suffering under feudal society.
These plays have been restaged and filmed in many versions. Through the works, dozens of artists from different generations, have become stars.
“By restaging Trang’s plays, I want to provide theatregoers with an old style of cải lương developed several decades ago. I believe that cải lương will live longer if artists keep the original art form,” Điền said. — VNS