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Youth learn about history through cai luong dramas

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Historical plays staged by cai luong (reformed opera) artists are fueling love for the country and a new patriotic fervour among young and old audiences alike.

For her latest production, Thai Hau Duong Van Nga (Queen Mother Duong Van Nga), theatre director and Meritorious Artist Hoa Ha has retained the authentic language spoken by Vietnamese centuries ago, but has also imparted a contemporary twist through special costumes as well as sound and light effects.

Cai luong, historical plays staged by cai luong, Vietnam economy, Vietnamnet bridge, English news about Vietnam, Vietnam news, news about Vietnam, English news, Vietnamnet news, latest news on Vietnam, Vietnam

People’s Artist Bach Tuyet, a guru of cai luong, believes traditional theatre should be changed to meet the tastes of young audiences. (Photo courtesy of Cho Lon Theatre)

The inclusion of veteran actors instead of an entire cast of young faces, as is customary in many local productions, is also expected to be a welcome change.

Meritorious Artists Phuong Loan and Kim Ngan, who have more than 30 years of experience in the industry, have both been cast in the role of Queen Mother Duong Van Nga.

“Theatre lovers of different generations remember Thai Hau Duong Van Nga and its spirit,” says Ha, the play’s producer and director. 

“I believe in both Loan and Ngan, who are talented and experienced enough to offer a taste of what cai luong is like," she says. 

To many in the audience at the play’s rehearsal last weekend, the results were dazzling. 

 “Many people watched Thai Hau Duong Van Nga in the 1980s and 90s, and the actresses this time have provided a great spectacle of passion, images and music,” saiys Phan Thu Ha, a resident of Tan Binh District. 

“Loan and Ngan are talented but differ in performance styles. Loan is an alto, and Ngan a mezzo-soprano.” 

“Both feature the inner beauty of Vietnamese women and display patriotism, bravery and sentiment through their work in Thai Hau Duong Van Nga,” she adds.

Thai Hau Duong Van Nga was first staged in HCM City in 1978, starring actress Thanh Nga as the Queen Mother.

The play is based on a cheo (traditional opera in north) screenplay by Truc Duong and was rewritten for cai luong by Huy Truong. It became a hit after its premiere at Cao Dong Hung Theatre in Binh Thanh District. 

Cai luong, historical plays staged by cai luong, Vietnam economy, Vietnamnet bridge, English news about Vietnam, Vietnam news, news about Vietnam, English news, Vietnamnet news, latest news on Vietnam, Vietnam

Actor Chi Linh plays General Le Hoan in Thai Hau Duong Van Nga, first performed on stage in HCM City in 1978. It will be restaged by female theatre director Hoa Ha in HCM City to celebrate 100 years of cai luong. (Photo courtesy of the producer)

The play has been restaged many times with cai luong stars such as People’s Artists Bach Tuyet, Ngoc Giau and Thanh Sang. 

“This year, I decided to restage a new version written by Hoa Phuong, Chi Lang and Tham Ha Van, to celebrate 100 years of cai luong,” says 61-year-old Hoa Ha, who began her career in 1977. 

The work portrays the life of Duong Van Nga, who served as Queen Regent of the Dinh Dynasty after her husband, Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang, was assassinated in 979 and when her son was six years old.

Nga later ceded the Dinh Dynasty’s throne to General Le Hoan in order to defend the country before the invasion of the Chinese Song troops. Gen Hoan led his army and expelled the enemy in 981.

Later, Le Hoan became the first emperor, named Le Dai Hanh, of the Early Le Dynasty.  Duong Van Nga was the first queen in Vietnam who married two emperors.

Today, Emperor Le Dai Hanh and Queen Duong Van Nga are worshipped at the Temple of Le Dai Hanh in the former royal capital ciy Hoa Lu, now Hoa Lu District in Ninh Binh Province.

The temple is located next to the tomb of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang, Queen Nga’s first husband. People of different generations have mixed views about the queen’s life.

“The life and love of Queen Mother Duong Van Nga is an endless source of passion for many authors and artists, and appears in many paintings, novels and plays of cheo (northern traditional opera) and cai luong,” says Ha.  

Highlights of Hoa Ha’s work include a scene of Nga in yellow costumes, singing and dancing with support of the orchestra while she ceded the throne to Gen Le Hoan.

Ha says she invited make-up artists and choreographers to help the actors perfect their characters. 

She also hired pop star Phuong Thanh to play a supporting role because she wanted to “bring a fresh wind to cai luong, an old and unique genre of southern theatre”.

Thai Hau Duong Van Nga will be staged at 8pm on May 6 and 13 at Ben Thanh Theatre at 6 Mac Dinh Chi St in District 1.

One of the industry’s few female directors, Hoa Ha says that a great cai luong show today must include skilled artists and have an appealing and powerful stage presence.

She notes that although young audiences prefer comedies, they are willing to attend a serious play. "So I decided to work with a play with a historical story."

"Historical plays are like valuable books or films that contain lessons that help young people learn more about the country’s history, traditional culture and lifestyle," says Hoa Ha, who spent more than VND800 million(US$35,000) on the production. 

Ha’s creations, including Tuyen Phi Dang Thi Hue (Concubine Dang Thi Hue) and Cong Chua Huyen Tran (Princess Huyen Tran) based on historical events, have been praised by young audiences, including students and workers.   

One of Hoa Ha’s favourite plays is Trung Than (Loyalist).

The 90-minute tragedy depicts the controversial life and death of Le Van Duyet, a national hero who contributed to the growth of southern Vietnam in the 19th century.

It features Duyet as the commander of Gia Dinh Citadel, located in Bien Hoa and Sai Gon districts, between 1813 and 1820 under Emperor Gia Long (Nguyen Phuc Anh), founder of the Nguyen Dynasty.

Duyet worked to build dikes and irrigation systems and was known for his military talent and fight against corrupt officials and sycophantic courtiers.

But after Duyet’s death in 1832. His grave was destroyed by the emperor, who had handed out nine sentences of death to Duyet, which in turn implicated his family.

In 1841, Emperor Thieu Tri officially pardoned him, declaring that the great commander had been innocent.

“In Trung Than, I used young artists Le Tu, Tu Suong and Dien Trung of the Tran Huu Trang Cai Luong Theatre, all of whom depicted their characters well,” says Hoa Ha.

Trung Than attracted many young guests who filled the seats of the HCM City Drama Theatre in District 1 every weekend in December and January.  

"Through my performance, I gained respect for national heroes and soldiers who sacrificed for the country’s independence," says young actor Quang Khai of the Viet Nam Cai Luong Theatre in Hanoi.

Khai starred in the role of the communist and patriot Phan Dang Luu in Hung Dong (Breaking Dawn), a production by Meritorious Artist Trieu Trung Kien.

Luu helped establish the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930. He was caught and given death sentence by French colonialist in 1941.

Hung Dong used music by HUB, a street band of young musicians and composers, to meet the current tastes of young people. The play has been staged in Hanoi and HCM City.

“It’s wonderful to learn that cai luong is not just old but also contains the breath of modern life," said Nguyen Thi Dieu, a second-year student of the HCM City University of Culture, who saw Hung Dong at the the City’s Opera House.

“Cai luong is unique and it should be preserved,” she says.

Trung Than and Hung Dong will be restaged on April 29-30 to celebrate the 43rd Reunification Day on April 30.  

Cai luong, historical plays staged by cai luong, Vietnam economy, Vietnamnet bridge, English news about Vietnam, Vietnam news, news about Vietnam, English news, Vietnamnet news, latest news on Vietnam, Vietnam

Meritorious Artist Phuong Loan and veteran actress Kim Ngan (right) perform in Thai Hau Duong Van Nga (Queen Mother Duong Van Nga), a historical play about Duong Van Nga who served as Queens of the Dinh Dynasty and Le Dynasty. (Photo courtesy of the producer)

New projects  

“Historical plays are keeping cai luong alive,” says Meritorious Artist Kim Tu Long of HCM City.

Long, in co-operation with a staff of skilled artists, has launched the drama project Ba The He Ve Lai Coi Nguon (Three Generations Perform Cai Luong) at the Cong Nhan Theatre in District 1.  

His project is part of the city’s Association of Theatre Artists’ cultural activities to celebrate 100 years of cai luong this year.

Long’s project offers live shows featuring national heroes and soldiers, all of which were staged in the 1980s and 90s, such as Ngon Lua Thang Long (The Flame of Thang Long Citadel) and Tieng Goi Non Song (The Voice of Country).

The project has attracted dozens of young and veteran performers from the city and southern provinces.    

“Our project also aims to highlight the gurus of cai luong of different generations. We hope to encourage young audiences to learn more about traditional theatre,” says Long, adding that his project has received support from the City’s Television and Theatre Association.

Tickets prices are affordable, ranging from VND50,000 (US$2.5) to 100,000 ($4.5) each.

In the near future, the play will also be staged in Hai Phong and Hanoi, he says.

People’s Artist Bach Tuyet recently made waves after releasing her new MV, Em Gai Mua (Rainy Girl) in cai luong, which used complex orchestrations and dazzling images.

In the MV, Tuyet adopted a romantic hit of 2017 by young pop star Huong Tram. The MV attracted more than 400,000 hits on YouTube.  

“Cai luong should be changed to meet the tastes of young audiences,” says the 73 year-old, who has more than 60 years in the industry.

“I began to love cải lương after viewing Tuyet’s MV, Em Gai Mua, in the cai luong version,” says 21-year-old singer Tram.  

Young artists Vo Minh Lam, Phuong Hang and Tuan Canh plan to release their new MVs featuring famous extracts from historical plays on YouTube and online music channels. 

Tuyet says that cai luong could be seen decades ago only at live performances. “So, the art’s expansion has been limited in modern society. MVs on YouTube will help bring the art to bigger audiences,” she says.

By Thu Anh

Source: VietNamNet

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