People’s Artist Minh Vương performs in the play Tổ Quốc Nơi Cuối Con Đường (The Country). (Photo courtesy of producer)
By Thu Anh
Veteran artist Minh Vương of HCM City was awarded the title People’s Artist by the Prime Minister in recognition of his great contribution to cải lương (reformed opera), a 100-year-old traditional theatre genre of the southern region.
Millions of theatre lovers in HCM City and Mekong River Delta provinces tuned in last week to watch Chuông Vàng Vọng Cổ (Nostalgia Golden Bell), one of the most popular music programmes that airs on the HTV7 TV channel.
While audiences were mostly interested in the art, the contest’s candidates and professional actors were focused more on the judge, People's Artist Minh Vương.
Since its first show in 2006, Chuông Vàng Vọng Cổ (Nostalgia Golden Bell) has helped dozens of young talents develop their career in cải lương (reformed opera).
This year, the event offered new concepts for the theatre thanks to a jury of veteran artists and theatre researchers, especially Vương, who has more than 50 years of experience working in the industry.
The 70-year-old artist, who is one of the contest’s producers, has helped young artists improve their talent by training through performing.
“Vương is a great man of cải lương,” said Quách Thị Diễm Ngọc of Cà Mau Province, winner of the Chuông Vàng Vọng Cổ 2019 competition.
Ngọc’s performance attracted more than 1,000 guests at the contest’s final round at the HTV Theatre last weekend.
“Vương’s art and his training helped amateur and young artists perfect their voice and performance skills without going to school. He helped poor farmers like me to believe that theatre can open a future for everyone, poor or rich, old or young,” the 25-year-old woman said.
“I have loved cải lương through Vương’s shows since I was a child. I learned how to sing traditional tunes in the unique style created by Vương, my idol,” said young actress Tú Quyên of the State-owned theatre Thế Giới Trẻ in HCM City.
Quyên performed with Vương in Tổ Quốc Nơi Cuối Con Đường (The Motherland), a cải lương play on true stories about soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country’s independence.
“Vương trained us to perform live with the orchestra on stage, which is the norm in cải lương, instead of playing recorded music as is often done today,” Quyên said. “Our show left a very strong impression on audiences and theatre critics.”
The play Tổ Quốc Nơi Cuối Con Đường won the Golden Prize for Best Play at the National Cải Lương Professional Festival 2018 held in Long An Province.
The 14-day festival, organised by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, attracted 25 theatres and troupes from HCM City and provinces of the Mekong River Delta region.
Through his productions, Vương and his colleagues have found ways to win the hearts of people living in remote areas who watch and listen to theatre on television and radio. (Photo courtesy of HTV)
Several hundred veteran and young performers were featured in 32 historical and social plays.
After the festival, tickets for the play Tổ Quốc Nơi Cuối Con Đường sold out in HCM City for two months.
"Vương’s strong and melodic voice and appealing and powerful stage presence impress audiences,” Meritorious Artist Mỹ Hằng of HCM City said. “I see the beauty of the Vietnamese spirit through Vương’s art."
Vương said during an interview with Thể Thao & Văn Hóa (Sports & Culture) newspaper: “I’m very interested in working with young actors. I believe they help preserve traditional music and theatre.
“I think people can understand why and how cải lương is still alive after 100 years, through the love and devotion for the art of our artists.”
People’s Artist Vương 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.
Born in 1949 in Cần Giuộc District in Long An, he fell in love with cải lương when he was a child.
He studied opera singing with Bảy Trạch, a singer and music player of Kim Chung Troupe.
He began his professional career when he was 14 after winning first prize at a cải lương singing competition on Sài Gòn Radio for young artists.
Vương later worked for Kim Chung Theatre in Sài Gòn (now HCM City), one of the region’s leading cải lương troupes.
In 1967, he played his first leading role, and after that, was hired to play mostly leading characters.
"Cải lương is my life. I have worked every single day to improve my art. Besides my love for cải lương, self-discipline has helped me develop my career," Vương said.
“Young artists should be more confident. They should not follow older generations because they need to reach a higher level of art.”
People's Artist Minh Vương and People's Artist Bạch Tuyết, both have more than 50 years working in cải lương. They have worked hard to keep theatre alive. (Photo courtesy of HTV)
After 1975, he performed in the famous plays Tô Ánh Nguyệt (Ms Tô Ánh Nguyệt), Đời Cô Lựu (The Life of Ms Lựu) and Nửa Đời Hương Phấn (The Flavour).
The plays featured the themes of love and women. His voice and dance skills are considered a standard for cải lương.
In the 1990s, Vương worked with Cần Thơ Television, HCM City Television (HTV) and film studios to produce TV shows, videos and albums featuring quality plays on social issues.
Through his productions, Vương and his colleagues such as Lê Thủy, Mỹ Châu and Ngọc Giàu found ways to win the hearts of people living in remote areas who enjoy theatre via TV or radio.
He has worked with art schools and traditional theatres to train students.
According to theatre critic Thanh Hiệp of Người Lao Động (The Labourer) newspaper of HCM City, Vương and his colleagues, late artist Giang Châu and Thanh Tuấn, who was named People’s Artist this year, highlight the culture and lifestyle of southern people through their art.
“They have helped keep cải lương alive,” he said. VNS