Having originated in south China's Guangdong province, Yueju Opera, or Guangdong Opera, combines elements of martial arts, acrobatics, singing, and dancing. Its dynamic performances have enabled it to become one of the major categories in Chinese operatic arts. This beloved form of theatre has recently been included on the World Intangible Cultural Heritage List, after a joint application from Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao. Guangdong Opera is now the second style of Chinese folk opera to make the list after Kunqu Opera in 2001.
This is Guangzhou, capital city of Guangdong province, a city which witnessed the birth and blossoming of Guangdong Opera. The area still prefers to hear a melody or two as after-dinner entertainment.
During the mid-Ming Dynasty some five-hundred years ago, the cities of Beijing, Foshan, Suzhou, and Hankou were booming centers of trade. At any time, one could hear a selection of Yiyang Tunes, Kunqu Opera, Bangzi, or Peking Opera on the stages at local theatres. This set of operatic genres gave rise to Guangdong Opera, which also assimilated some indigenous tunes and ballads. In 1852, a Guangdong Opera troupe first performed in Los Angeles, becoming the first Chinese opera ever performed abroad.
Guangdong Opera flourished in the 1920s with an increase in the number of plays and an extended style of various arias. These are best represented by masters like Xue Juexian, Ma Shizeng, and Liao Xiahuai. Meanwhile, the incorporation of martial arts and acrobatics made the genre a sophisticated art form.
Li Qiuyuan, actor of Zhaoqing Guangdong Opera Troupe, said, "The Young Male part in the Opera combines fighting sequences. The role is very demanding regarding the makeup, voice, and a fine understanding of the play."
The gongs and drum are heard in tea houses, temples and parks in Cantonese-speaking areas. It is a bond for family members and friends.
Huang Bin, director, Cultural Bureau of social and culture department, said, "The fact that the play is so well received in many regions is a testament to its endearing and vigorous quality."
Those who practice the art are exploring a new path to attract young people to the opera.
One of the pioneers in the inheritance and innovation of Guangdong opera is Hoong Ceen Leui, now advanced in years at the ripe age of 84. The Hoong style of singing is the most popular and those tunes are the most widely spread abroad.
Having forsaken Hong Kong in the 1950s, Hoong returned to the Mainland, dedicating herself to bringing up more aspiring young performers. The local government has established the "Hoong Ceen Leui Arts Center" in her honor.
Even today, Hoong is regularly seen instructing young opera students.
Hoong Ceen Leui, Guangdong Opera master, said, "Some adjustment is needed in the craft you have handed down. The obsolete part needs to be renovated."
In the footsteps of Hoong Ceen Leui and many other Guangdong opera masters, young students are taking up the craft with a devotion that will keep the Opera blooming in Southern China and elsewhere in the world.