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Artist finds music, love and laughter on Con Dao

Update: May, 09/2013 - 09:30
by Vo Le Hong
A perfect day: Linh Huyen and Marzano at their wedding in 2008.

For English-Italian art-ist and curator Rich-ard William di San Marzano, the first time he heard cai luong was an epiphany.

When Marzano visited Con Dao in 2006 as a tourist, he was enchanted by the sweet voice of well-known cai luong artist Linh Huyen.

"It touched my soul," says Marzano, now the singer's husband and father of her two children. "I love the human voice the way it is used in cai luong. The acapella vocal solos are everyone's favorite moments in a perfourmance, and, as someone once said, the deepest expression of the Vietnamese soul."

Huyen has had a 23-year career as a singer, actress and composer and is the founder of SOV (Soul of Viet Nam or Hon Viet in Vietnamese), a variety show held twice a month at the HCM City Opera House. During the two-hour show, a theatrical troupe from Mekong Artists serves up a colourful kaleidoscope of traditional songs, dances, music, street life and legends from Vietnamese culture.

Portrait of the artist: English-Italian artist and art curator Richard William di San Marzano. — VNS Photos courtersy Mekong Artists Company

Huyen won a gold medal for Professional Mekong Artists in 1993 and another in the National Television Festival in 2008, for both singing and composing. She is renowned for her recent cai luong operas, like Ba Chua Tho Nom about the poet Ho Xuan Huong, Suong Nguyet Anh about the eponymous female journalist of the early 20th century, and Nguyen Binh Khiem about the academic and poet.

She is widely respected for her devotion to conserving traditional music and culture and for being a practitioner of pure music.

"It can be very moving like all great opera, but I do wish there was less talk and more song. I am not too fond of the use of new electronic instruments and prefer traditional instruments, and I love to hear a singer performing without a microphone as they used to in the past," Marzano says.

If you ask him when he was born, he just says: "A long time ago but it seems like yesterday." Like most people, he doesn't want to talk about his age. He does admit to growing up in England, Australia and Italy and living in Sai Gon from 1958 to 1965.

Marzano studied art in Australia and has shown his visual art in Sydney, Perth, Paris and New York. He has also worked extensively in the performing arts world, especially in Australia. Here, he has worked with the Dogma Collection and Dogma Prize for Vietnamese Self-Portraiture and works closely with his wife and her company, Mekong Artists.

"He supports me in everything and also has many years of theatre and music experience, so he helps considerably with the development and presentation of an event like SOV," Huyen says. "He is also a great cook!"

Viet Nam made a big impact on Marzano during his childhood days here.

"Living here changed my life. I learnt to ride a bicycle on the streets of this town, to swim, but most of all, to admire and respect the Vietnamese," he says.

In the future, he plans to stage SOV at the Ha Noi Opera House and "help cai luong get the international recognition it deserves". — VNS

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