luong singer feels the love
|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
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
"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
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
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.
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