From flirt to feminist: a chèo opera revitalised

August 13, 2021 - 09:00

HÀ NỘI  For centuries, the role of Thị Mầu in Việt Nam’s most famous chèo opera Quan Âm Thị Kính (Goddess of Mercy) has been as a flirtatious woman.

However, audiences of the traditional art will soon have the chance to see her dynamic, good-natured side through a new cải lương (reformed opera) play expected to debut in the near future.

Thị Mầu (by Lệ Thu) and Thị Kính (by Hà Thảo) star in the chèo play Quan Âm Thị Kính (Goddess of Mercy) at the Việt Nam Chèo Theatre. Pboto courtesy of the theatre

Truân Chuyên Dải Yếm Đào (A Changeable Life) is a new play produced by the Hoa Mai Cải Lương Troupe for Hà Nội Cải Lương Theatre.

Penned by scriptwriter Lê Chí Trung, the play has been adapted from the chèo classic Quan Âm Thị Kính, which was composed in the 10th century as a statement on the beauty of love, compassion and selflessness.

Unlike the image of a lascivious woman in previous chèo versions who even gives birth to an out-of-wedlock child – a taboo in Vietnamese feudal society – the new play centres on Thị Mầu as a pioneer breaking free of feudal ideas around the role of women and love.

According to stage director Hoàng Quỳnh Mai, the play is expected to bring “completely different emotions from the popular opera version known for centuries”.

“We want to portray Thị Mầu as a central character who has an intense desire for freedom in love and gender equality. Our message is that women in any era and society need to be cared for and they have the right to love and be loved,” Mai said.

“Getting out of the shadow of the Thị Kính role in the chèo play was our big challenge. That’s why, all our artists are trying to create a difference with our cải lương on stage.”

In Truân Chuyên Dải Yếm Đào, the role of Thị Màu will be played by actress Thiên Hương, who was voted as Best Actress by the jury of the Việt Nam Stage Artists Association in 2020.

The 3D stage design of the upcoming cải lương play 'Truân Chuyên Dải Yếm Đào' (A Changeable Life). – Photo courtesy of the Hoa Mai Cải Lương Troupe 

The play also features other popular cải lương artists, including Quang Thanh, Thanh Vân, Minh Vương, and Văn Túc.

“Although our artists started rehearsing the play at the start of May, with the current lockdown in the city all of us have to stay home. We cannot gather for rehearsal now,” said director Mai.

The Hoa Mai Cải Lương Troupe expects to debut the play after coronavirus restrictions have been eased and theatres allowed to reopen. – VNS