Esplanade Presents

Theatre

Tracing Origins – The Life and Times of Cantonese Opera’s Laosheng

Lead Actor: Christopher Choo
Cast: Philip Chan, May Choong
(Singapore)

26 Apr 2024, Fri, 8pm

27 Apr 2024, Sat, 8pm

2hrs

(Intermission: 1 x 20mins)

Esplanade Theatre Studio

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Synopsis

In a fit of fury, a mistress is murdered  

Under the moon and stars, a man pursues a rare talent  

To show his loyalty, a general sacrifices himself   

These scenes tell the story of the laosheng’s artistry  

 

Song Jiang Kills Yan Xijiao is startling and suspenseful; Xiao He Pursues Han Xin is full of earnest vigour; and General Yang's Sacrifice is tragic in its desolation. These three opera excerpts of different plots are all showcases for the laosheng (elderly male role). Directed by Christopher Choo, a veteran of Singapore’s Chinese opera scene, Tracing Origins is an opportunity to explore and appreciate the particular artistry of this character type.  

 

Christopher is the one and only disciple of legendary Cantonese opera icon, Leng Chi Pak. Through his performance, this laosheng showcase exemplifies the role while also highlighting other performers, namely local wenwusheng (scholar/warrior male role) Philip Chan and new-generation huadan (female role) May Choong.  

 

Following the basic setting of a traditional Chinese opera performance, this showcase is staged with only one table and two chairs. Backdropped by calligraphy and paintings and staged in an intimate venue, Tracing Origins honours both the art of Cantonese opera and the memory of a beloved master.  

 

There will be live music accompaniment by Tung On Opera Orchestra.   

 

Excerpt

 

Song Jiang Kills Yan Xijiao is based on a plot point in Water Margin, in which Song Jiang kills Yan Xijiao. This excerpt is a signature showcase for a laosheng and a feisty huadan in Cantonese opera. Choo takes the stage as the middle-aged Song Jiang sporting a black beard. Before he kills Yan Xijiao, his agitated emotions are expressed through his technique of wielding the artificial beard, and the results are transfixing. As the female lead, Choong portrays a subversive and fiery character and conveys her intense love-hate relationship with Song Jiang with refreshing intensity. This excerpt borrows Peking opera’s Siping tune and is a great test of the performers’ skills.  

 

Xiao He Pursues Han Xin, also known as Xiao He Pursues Han Xin by Moonlight, is a showcase for Cantonese opera’s laosheng and wenwusheng, with many wonderful moments of singing. Choo plays Xiao He and Chan plays Han Xin. Together, they share a scene where they spur on their horses to swifter speeds. Choo has a key moment where he falls off his horse, showcasing his striking “shoe-flinging” technique.  

 

Known as one of the “Four Kings of Cantonese Opera”, Leng Chi Pak was famous for his performance in General Yang's Sacrifice. This excerpt follows the southern style of Cantonese opera, including signature techniques such as tiao da jia1, shui bo lang2, and using the tune of yan er luo3 to set tragic and desolate mood. Choo uses a full-throated and melodious singing style modelled after his master. He sings of Yang Jiye’s despair as he is trapped in Two Wolves Mountain; surrounded by enemies, he ultimately chooses to kill himself by smashing his head against a monument.  

 

1tiao da jia: sets of stylised movements in the southern style of Cantonese opera that are used to depict different scenarios  

2shui bo lang: a series of footwork that conveys intense emotions  

3yan er luo: a specific tune usually accompanied by the suona as the lead musical instrument  

Admission Age:
6 and above.
Language: Cantonese
Surtitle Language: English, Chinese
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Artist Information

Christopher Choo

Christopher Choo is the only disciple of the legendary master Leng Chi Pak. During his career, Choo also studied under the late Ren Da Xun, a master of the Northern operatic style in Hong Kong, and the well-known Cantonese opera actor and Cultural Medallion recipient, Joanna Wong Quee Heng. Choo specialises in the laosheng (elderly male) role, and also takes on the clown, painted faces, elderly female role, scholarly and warrior male roles. He is an all-rounded Chinese opera performer and has graced many stages in China, UK, US, Japan and Egypt. As a pioneer graduate of LASALLE College of the Arts in Directing, Choo has accumulated close to 50 years of experience in the performing arts scene. Besides the operatic arts, Choo is also involved with directing and acting in the local Chinese and English theatre scene. Some of his recent works include The Patriotic Princess, The Legend of Purple Hairpin and Grabbing the Flute, among others.

Philip Chan

Chan is well-known amongst the aficionados of Cantonese opera in Singapore. He studied under Madam Chee Kin Foon and received guidance from other masters of Chinese operas, including He Jia Yao and Bing Yong (Cantonese opera), Lin Lai Xi and Rong Da Jun (Peking opera), as well as Chen Jia Bao (Hokkien gaojiaxi opera). Throughout his three decades in the industry, Chan honed his skills through tireless studies and countless hours of practice. A regular at the annual Yang Cheng International Cantonese Opera Festival held in Guangzhou, Chan showcases the vitality of Singapore’s Cantonese opera scene to the world. Chan is the only wenwusheng representative from Singapore at the festival every year. 

May Choong

Choong began performing in Cantonese operas in 1999 and studied under various famous actors, including the late Foo Yew Fai, Tham Foong Meng, Lou Mee Wah and Huang Ping. In recent years, Choong has been under the tutelage of Joanna Wong and Ling Dongming, as well as Christopher Choo. She is passionate about Cantonese opera and is a recipient of the Chinese Opera Orchid Award given out by the Chinese Opera Institute in 2022. She hopes to undertake the mission to promote the traditional art form to the younger generation in future. 

Leng Chi Pak

Leng Chi Pak – a lifelong devotion to Cantonese opera 

(1904 – 2 June 1992)

 

Hailed as one of the “Four Kings of Cantonese Opera”, opera master Leng Chi Pak (birth name Lai Cong Pak) hails from a family of opera artists. Leng began his opera training with famed male martial actor, Leng Dai Fong and thereafter with another famed male martial actor Chu Chi Pak alongside fellow student actor Sit Kok Sin. After stepping into the limelight at age 16, Leng rose to prominence and became a household name pre-World War II. Blessed with a natural bass voice, he imbued raspiness and power to his voice to create a unique singing voice. Leng, familiar with the nanyin and gu qiang operatic styles, was able to perform elderly female roles as well. Leng witnessed three generations of prosperity in the Cantonese opera scene over his 70-year career, from his stage debut to his long-standing partnership with the Yam Bak Sin Fung Ming Opera Troupe and his mentoring collaboration with the Chor Fung Ming Opera Troupe in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Evidently, Leng left an indelible mark in the annals of the art form. 

Date & Time

26 Apr 2024, Fri

8pm

Esplanade Theatre Studio

27 Apr 2024, Sat

8pm

Esplanade Theatre Studio
Tickets & Prices
Standard

Students, NSFs, Seniors & PWDs
(Limited)

Price $38 $30

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