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Cải lương star dies at 68

Update: September, 23/2016 - 11:00
People’s Artist Thanh Tòng, a star of cải lương (reformed theatre), passed away at 68 in HCM City on September 22. (tuoitre.vn)
Viet Nam News

HCM City — People’s Artist Thanh Tòng, a star of cải lương (reformed theatre), died yesterday in HCM City after an undisclosed illness. He was 68.

Besides devoting his life to performance, he spent years researching and compiling cải lương and hát bội or tuồng (classical drama), a genre of theatre in the central region, in an aim to preserve both arts.  

Born in 1948 to a traditional art family in Sài Gòn, Tòng had his first lessons in cải lương when he was three years old from his father, Minh Tơ, one of the region’s most talented actors in the 1940s and 1950s.   

Beginning his career in 1959, he worked for Minh Tơ, a leading cải lương troupe in the region. He improved his art with actors such as Thành Tôn, Khánh Hồng and Năm Bửu.  

With his strong voice and performing ability, Tòng quickly became a bright star. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was at the peak of his artistry and fame.

He performed in many plays featuring historical events and national heroes. Some of his plays were recognised as part of the cải lương canon.

In 1968, he decided to reform cải lương by combining it with hát bội. The resulting art form became very popular.

Later, he opened the Khánh Hồng-Minh Tơ Troupe, which offered plays featuring both cải lương and hát bội. The troupe attracted young talents such as Bạch Lê, Thanh Thế and Thanh Bạch, who impressed audiences.

In 1979, he wrote, directed and acted in Thanh Gương Và Nữ Tướng (Sword and Beauty), a play using modern dances set to Vietnamese music. 

The play helped Tòng win the Golden Prize for best actor at the National Professional Theatre Festival in 1980.

He also brought his art to many places in the country as well as overseas. 

Thanks to his training, many students including Vũ Linh, Ngọc Đáng, Hữu Lợi and his eldest daughter, Quế Trân, became cải lương stars and won top prizes at national competitions and festivals.

For his contributions, Tòng was honored with the title People’s Artist in 2007.

Tòng will be buried at Gò Đen Cemetery in Long An Province. — VNS

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