Hong Kong Metropolitan University (HKMU) has always been committed to promoting Chinese culture, and the preservation and promotion of Cantonese opera has been one of the University’s research areas in recent years. The School of Arts and Social Sciences is devoted to enhancing the promotion and knowledge transfer of Cantonese opera culture through various means. For example, in August 2022, the School organised a seminar on the theme “Innovating and Inheriting Cantonese Opera Singing Styles and Schools: 1930s – 1970s”. Funded by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, the seminar invited Prof. Chan Sau-yan, a renowned Cantonese opera music scholar and researcher, and a number of academics and Cantonese opera artists to be speakers. In December of the same year, the School hosted a lecture delivered by Cantonese opera maestro Franco Yuen Siu-fai and veteran instrumental musician Leonard Wong Shing-chuen. And in the summer of 2021, HKMU launched the General Education course Cantonese Opera Culture: Appreciation and Experience to encourage students to explore the history and culture of Cantonese opera. In the course, students learn about the basic connotation, aesthetic characteristics, production and acting styles of Cantonese opera. The course has been taken by 76 students so far.
As a traditional Chinese opera genre, Cantonese opera carries the rich heritage of Chinese culture and has been recognised as part of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on the Representative List” of UNESCO. Dr Kelly Chan, Associate Professor in the School of Arts and Social Sciences and course coordinator of Cantonese Opera Culture: Appreciation and Experience, said she hopes to provide students with a basic understanding of Cantonese opera in a lively and interesting manner. In view of the large gap between the new generation and traditional Cantonese opera, Dr Chan has worked hard to make the lessons interactive and fun. For instance, she invited Leonard Wong to teach stage techniques and roles such as “pushing a carriage” and the male “hua dan” (a young female character portrayed by a man), supplemented by video clips and the playing of musical instruments. Maestro Choo Heng-cheong was also invited to teach and show students how to play musical instruments in class.
In order to let the students experience the essence of Cantonese opera, Dr Chan arranged to have five lessons conducted at the Xiqu Centre in the West Kowloon Cultural District, where full-time performers and instrumental musicians gave demonstrations on a variety of topics. Alumnus and Cantonese opera actor Edgar Ng Lap-hei was also present to show his skills and share his experience of joining the profession as a young person.
As a translation professor who loves singing Cantonese opera, Dr Chan has devoted herself to the study of Cantonese opera translation and the exploration of the cultural roots of individual operatic titles. She has also actively participated in the University’s Cantonese opera promotional activities in recent years. Dr Chan acknowledged that the study of Cantonese opera is not a popular area of academic research, but she believes that the academic world should allow different fields of research to flourish. She said she hopes that a Cantonese opera research centre can be established to draw more public attention to this art form and that the University will take on a more important role in this area of study.