Viet Nam News
by Thu Anh
A biography on the 50-year-long career of meritorious cải lương (reformed opera) actress Mỹ Châu, who now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, was recently released in HCM City.
Châu, Chút Tạ Tình Tri Âm (Châu, an Appreciation of Life), written by Thanh Thủy and published by Saigon Books in co-operation with the Culture & Arts Publishing House, features the development of cải lương, a genre of traditional theatre in the south between the 1960s and 1990s.
The book includes 268 pages and dozens of black-and-white and colour photographs of Châu and her colleagues by well-known artists living in Sài Gòn before and after 1975.
The book features Châu’s memories of famous performers, including People’s Artist Phùng Há, a guru of cải lương, Minh Phụng, Thanh Nga, Hồng Nga and Minh Cảnh, who played an important role in developing the art.
“I talked and interviewed Châu many times before writing. However, in some cases, I felt that my pen could not feature the love and challenges that Châu had spent on cải lương,” Thủy said.
“Châu, Chút Tạ Tình Tri Âm helps theatre lovers, particularly young people, learn more about cải lương and its status in Vietnamese theatre,” said Lê Thị Hồng Gấm of Đồng Nai Province.
In the 1990s, Gấm and her family watched Châu in many shows aired on Hồ Chí Minh Television.
“Through the book, readers can understand why and how cải lương is still alive after 100 years through the love and devotion for the art of Châu, one of the region’s favourite performers,” she added.
One of Châu and her fans’ favourite plays is Khách Sạn Hào Hoa (Caravelle Hotel), an historical play about the victories of revolutionary agents in Sài Gòn before 1975.
The play was written by theatre scriptwriter and author Trần Hà after the historic victory on April 30, 1975 which liberated South Việt Nam and united the country.
In the play, Châu played Hiếu, a city agent of the Liberation Special Forces, who works as a dancing girl for a bar in the Caravelle Hotel in 1970. To complete her mission, Hiếu faces danger and death.
The play and role character are based on the life and work of heroine Nguyễn Thị Minh Hiền, featuring real stories about the secret agent and her colleagues who contributed to the liberation cause.
Born in 1953 in Bến Tre Province, Hiền became a member of the revolutionary force when she was 17. For her contributions, the government conferred her the tittle "Vietnamese People’s Armed Forces Hero" in 1976.
In 2015, Hiền was deputy director of the District 5 Police.
To perfect her performance, Châu met Hiền and many of her comrades to learn more about their work and victories.
Khách Sạn Hào Hoa was first staged by the Sài Gòn Cải Lương II Troupe in 1976 and was restaged many times on Liberation Day on April 30.
"The character Hiếu was performed by many generations of artists, including cải lương stars, but Châu’s strong and melodic voice and appealing and powerful stage presence left a very strong impression on audiences,” said actress Thoại Mỹ, who starred in the role of Hiếu in 2016.
“Châu featured the image of nameless fighters who sacrificed their life for the people’s peace and happiness," she added.
Now an ATLien: The cover of Châu, Chút Tạ Tình Tri Âm (Châu, An Appreciation of Life), a biography on the life and career of Meritorious and veteran cải lương (reformed opera) actress Mỹ Châu, who resides in Atlanta, Georgia,US, has recently been released in HCM City. The book also portrays cải lương, a genre of traditional theatre in the south, through Châu’s career. Photo Saigonbook
Meritorious Artist Châu has performed in several hundred plays and TV shows and recorded albums in praise of Vietnamese culture and lifestyle in both traditional and modern styles of cải lương.
"If cải lương is a temple of theatre, then I’m a believer in serving it," Châu said in a recent interview with VNExpress online before launching the book Châu, Chút Tạ Tình Tri Âm in early April.
"Take me away from the stage and I’m nothing," she said.
Born in 1950 in Thủ Thừa District of Long An Province, she fell in love with cải lương when she was a child.
She began her professional career when she was 14 after working for Thủ Đô Troupe in Sài Gòn (now HCM City).
She later worked for Kim Chung Theatre, one of the region’s leading cải lương troupes, performed with actors such as Thanh Nga, Hùng Cường and Minh Cảnh, all of whom are recognised as some of the most talented cải lương performers in the country.
She played leading roles in famous plays, including Trinh Nữ Lầu Xanh (The Beauty) and Khi Rừng Mới Sang Thu (Forest in Early Autumn).
In 1967, Châu received the Thanh Tâm Awards for Best Actress (Trần Hữu Trang Awards, now awarded by the HCM City Theatre Artists Association).
After 1975, she performed leading roles in the historical plays Thái Hậu Dương Vân Nga (Queen Mother Dương Vân Nga), Tiếng Trống Mê Linh (Drums of Mê Linh) and Công Chúa Ngọc Hân (Princess Ngọc Hân).
The plays featured the themes of loyalty and patriotism. Her voice and dance skills left a strong impression on audiences.
In the 1990s, Châu worked with Cần Thơ Television (THTPCT), HCM City Television (HTV) and Tây Đô Film to produce TV shows, videos and albums featuring quality plays on social issues.
Through her productions, Châu found ways to win the hearts of people living in remote areas who enjoy theatre via TV or radio.
Châu and her colleagues worked hard to highlight the culture and lifestyle of southern people through their art. They made cải lương popular among fans.
For her contribution to the country’s theatre, Châu was honoured with the tittle "Meritorious Artist" from the Government in 1993.
In 2002, Châu and her husband, theatre actor Đức Minh, moved to the US. She has frequently returned to the country to perform in many TV shows.
"A theatre artist can still perform well without thinking of money and glory," said Châu, adding that her love for theatre has helped maintain her health. -- VNS