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Cai luong singer feels the love

Update: May, 09/2008 - 00:00

Cai luong singer feels the love


by Anh Thu

Hitting the high notes: Cai luong singer Phung Ha (centre) performs in the play Mong Hoa Vuong (Dream of The King), written by renowned playwright Tran Huu Trang. — VNS Photo Huynh Cong Minh

Both veteran and younger actors performed at the Artists’ Pagoda, also known as the Nhat Quang Tu (Sunlight Pagoda), to celebrate the birthday of People’s Artist Phung Ha and wish her a long life.

The pagoda, located in the city’s Go Vap District and now owned by Ha, was the setting for cai luong (reformed theatre) performances, starring younger singers Thoai My and Kim Tieu Long.

The singers honoured their teacher by donating funds to the pagoda, the only one of its kind in the city that contains a cemetery devoted to cai luong and tuong (classical drama) performers.

"We found it refreshing to perform for Ha and her fans on her birthday," said Thoai My, one of many Ha’s students.

Beginning her career in 1923, Ha worked for the Tai Dong Ban, a leading cai luong troupe in My Tho Province, the cradle of cai luong art.

With her strong voice and performance skills, Ha quickly became a bright star on stage.

In the 1950s, Ha, known as Miss Bay, was at the peak of her artistry and fame. She played in many serious plays such as Doi Co Luu (Miss Luu’s Life) and To Anh Nguyet, which are recognised as canonical cai luong.

In these plays, Ha featured the tragedy of Vietnamese women under feudalism, focusing on beautiful and virtuous girls whose suffering was caused by village officials and landowners.

Like many of her peers, Ha devoted her energies to the stage, not marrying or having children.

She spent her savings to build the Artists’ Pagoda in 1958, aiming to run it as a charity cemetery for traditional artists.

Ha also worked hard to train younger colleagues. Many of her students, including the late actress Thanh Nga and younger performers Thanh Thanh Tam and Thoai My, have won top prizes at national competitions and festivals.

"Our traditional cai luong art should be carried out in a series of processes, from the older generation to younger one, a process that leads to new heights of creation," said the 98-year-old Ha at her birthday party.

"The country’s spirit is based on traditional arts. Our children can’t grow up without love and respect for the arts," she added.


Living alone at the Artists’ Pagoda, Ha is a role model for younger artists who are trying to preserve traditional culture as well as share it with others.

"Thanks to Ha and her students, the pagoda serves as a place of rest for nearly 1,000 cai luong and tuong performers, who were often stars on the stage but alone and poor in old age," said My.

On Ha’s birthday every year, My and her friends visit the pagoda and raise money for the pagoda’s charity programmes that help poor artists and their families.

Working with the pagoda’s managing board, they have also collected donations from individuals and organisations, including visitors, artists and their families, to run the pagoda’s activities. Last year, they collected more than VND3 billion (US$180,000) for charity. — VNS

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