Chinese Opera

Category: Performing Arts

Chinese opera is a performing art form rooted in Chinese traditions and staged with stylised actions and elaborate costumes. Chinese opera performances were observed in Singapore as early as the 19th century, when Chinese immigrants brought the art form into Singapore. They are typically performed as an art form for entertainment, as well as during religious occasions at temples and celebrations at clan associations.

Opera actresses in the midst of a performance at Nine Emperor God Festival in Singapore. Nine Emperor Gods Festival Documentation Project, supported by NHB Heritage Research GrantOpera actresses in the midst of a performance at Nine Emperor God Festival in Singapore. Nine Emperor Gods Festival Documentation Project, supported by National Heritage Board's Heritage Research Grant.

There are various opera sub-forms in Singapore and they include Teochew opera, Cantonese opera and Hokkien opera. Although these sub-forms differ across traditions and dialect groups, there are common elements shared across these sub-forms. These common elements include the songs and actions performed, as well as certain techniques and stage presentation. The differences lie mostly in the costumes and make-up.

Teochew opera (chao ju, 潮剧), performed in the Teochew dialect, involves colourful costumes and stylised movements. A unique feature of Teochew opera is the use of choral accompaniment in the opera music. In Singapore, the Lao Sai Tao Yuan (老赛桃源) Teochew opera troupe is one of the oldest Teochew opera troupe in Singapore, as it been around since the early 19th century.

Cantonese opera (yue ju, 粵剧), performed in the Cantonese dialect, features an amalgamation of traditional vocal, string and percussion music. Besides songs and dramas, Cantonese opera usually includes simulated fighting and acrobatics that are based on stories drawn from Chinese folklore, history or literature. The Chinese Theatre Circle is an example of a Cantonese opera group in Singapore.

Hokkien opera, also known as min ju (闽剧), is performed in the Hokkien dialect and is commonly described as having a "crying" melody. Its performances are usually based on folk tales of the Fujian (福建) province in China.

In Singapore, Chinese operas troupes are usually invited by temples and associations to perform during religious festivals and ceremonies as part of rituals and offerings to deities and the underworld, including Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节) (Hungry Ghost Festival). In addition, productions are staged in theatres by professional groups, and performances are also presented by both professional and interest groups during festive celebrations and community events.


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