MU Connect issue 6 (page 16-17)

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Ina Ho Cantonese Opera Research Centre

to promote Cantonese opera through translation, research and public education

Cantonese opera is a major operatic form in the Guangdong region. Drawing from a variety of sources, the art is flexible enough to absorb both “highbrow” and “lowbrow” elements, and thus it traditionally enjoyed a wide appeal. In Hong Kong, it developed rapidly from the 1930s to the 1970s into a mainstream culture. In 2009, this traditional art form made a mark on the international stage as it was inscribed onto UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Despite this, with the passing of time and social changes, Cantonese opera has become rather unfamiliar to the majority of young people. At HKMU, the Tin Ka Ping Centre of Chinese Culture has been active in promoting the art through various activities. Recently, the University was delighted to receive a generous donation from Dr Ina Ho Chan Un-chan, founder of the Hong Kong Cantonese Opera Troupe, to further this cause. The funding brought about the establishment of the Ina Ho Cantonese Opera Research Centre.

Opening ceremony cum Cantonese opera performance

The opening ceremony of the research centre took place on 19 August at the Xiqu Centre in the West Kowloon Cultural District. On the same occasion, renowned Cantonese opera artists Yuen Siu-fai, Lung Koon-tin and Nam Fung, together with a number of up-and-coming performers and Cantonese opera music maestro Dr Choo Heng-cheong as the Guest Chief Musician, presented a spectacular show under the title Glamour of Cantonese Opera Shines through the Academia. Among the officiating guests were Mr Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, Mr Zhang Guoyi, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Publicity, Cultural and Sports Affairs of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR, and Dr Ina Ho.

Selective translation and innovative approaches to research

As a research centre, the new establishment will not only promote the artistic aspects of Cantonese opera, but also cover a comprehensive range of research areas including vocal styles, preservation, libretto appreciation and most notably, the English translation of libretti and excerpts. “We aim for an 'exquisite' approach, not necessarily looking for the translation of the whole repertoire,” expresses Dr Kelly Chan Kar-yue, Director of the Centre. “We'll consider factors such as cultural meanings and public coverage, and select Cantonese opera libretti — possibly excerpts — that haven't yet been translated, especially old Hong Kong editions.”

The Centre is going to form a translation team and get distinguished bachelor's and master's graduates involved. There are also plans to place the translated works on an online platform and conduct post-translation studies of selected works, including analysis of translation techniques, cultural backgrounds, allusions and references, the results of which will be stored in a digital archive. While there is no lack of Cantonese opera research in Hong Kong, Dr Chan is looking to bring in western perspectives to arrive at innovative interpretations of the art. She hopes that the Centre's translation projects and fresh research angles will generate more attention on Cantonese opera locally and overseas, facilitating artistic and cultural exchange.

Helping the public appreciate Cantonese opera

Apart from translation and research, another important mission of the Centre is education. The University launched its first General Education course on Cantonese opera in 2021. Currently, the Centre is updating one of these courses and redeveloping the materials into public online courses on Cantonese opera cultural appreciation. Dr Chan says, “We'll select topics of interest to the general public, such as the cultural background of Cantonese opera and cultural sources of particular works, and make use of multimedia channels to enhance people's understanding of Cantonese opera. We're also thinking about introducing English appreciation content to reach a more diverse audience.” In the future, the Centre may work with troupes to conduct overseas performances, and may involve students in the process of production or provision of guidance on appreciation.