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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Keeping the art of Teochew opera alive

Posted: 25 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Teochew opera practitioners Ling Goh and family take to the stage with puppets in tow.

A GENERAL frames a minister and has every first-born in a village killed. A jilted lover poisons the person she holds responsible for her misery. A poor farmer gets caught up, unwittingly, in the state's secret affairs and corruption. And the stories go on, told and retold for centuries, and enjoyed by old and young alike.

Chinese opera, one of the oldest dramatic art forms, combines literature, music and drama – plus elaborate costumes and lots of make-up!

There are not many practitioners in Malaysia who come from a background like Ling Goh of the now-defunct Kim Giak Low Choon (KGLC) Teochew Opera Troupe.

This weekend, Goh, together with family members spanning three generations, will offer a glimpse into the colourful world of Teochew opera at the Theatre Lounge Cafe in Kuala Lumpur.

The performance is divided into two acts, with the first being a scene from The Orphan Of Zhao. The story revolves around a minister who leads a rebellion within the imperial court to overthrow the minister in power, and soon after, adopts a child without realising that the boy is the son of the minister he killed. When the son comes of age, he avenges his father's untimely death.

Goh plays the biological mother of the avenging son, accompanied by her two nieces, Goh Sin Ee, 13, and Sin Jie, 12.

The second act involves, dramatically, the ghost spirit of a woman who commits suicide after being sold to a brothel. The apparition haunts the room, befriends a customer, and convinces him to assist her in seeking revenge.

A Taste of Teochew Opera at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe. Ling Goh's nieces, the fifth generation of a family of opera practitioners, are being groomed in this ancient art form.

A Taste of Teochew Opera at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe. Ling Goh's nieces, the fifth generation of a family of opera practitioners, are being groomed in this ancient art form.

Her story is told through iron-rod puppets controlled by skilled puppeteers – truly a family event as Goh's parents, brothers, nieces and sister-in-law are involved, their ages ranging from 12 to 71 years old.

"Before the show, a makeshift stage is built with a straw mat placed on the floor boards. The movements, music and vocals you see here are similar to shadow puppetry," Goh explains, adding that a traditional rod puppetry troupe is made up of nine members who are divided into groups of three to handle the puppets, sing and provide the music.

If the play has multiple characters, multi-tasking becomes the order of the day – the puppeteers and musicians might also sing.

Goh, a fourth generation opera practitioner, learned the art of opera and puppetry from her mother, who has to date been performing in puppet shows for 50 years.

"I started performing at the age of seven. In 2009, I formed KGLC Teochew Opera Troupe to provide local performers and myself with a platform to continue performing," Goh says of the troupe that was based in Penang.

The setting up of the troupe in 2009 was timely, as many other opera troupes were being disbanded in succession around that time.

The KGLC Troupe held out as long as it could, but unfortunately was disbanded last year; Goh cites financial constraints as the reason.

But she continues to perform, motivated by her love for the art form that she grew up with, and the encouraging feedback from the audience – every compliment clearly high praise for someone who describes Teochew opera as "an expression of love for our roots".

Goh comments that local audiences have the perception that Teochew opera performances are staged for spiritual beings – a belief fuelled by the location (temples) and timing (Hungry Ghost Festival) of many performances.

"I would like to change this perception and let people know that this beautiful art form is so much more than that," she says.

To that end, Goh plans to set up a Penang Teochew Arts Centre next month where exhibitions and shows will be held. Workshops will also be conducted.

"We will persevere in our pursuit of this art form. It's our sincere hope that the generations to come will have the opportunity to continue learning and enjoying Teochew opera and puppetry shows," she says.

What better way to start than by watching her perform this weekend.

> A Taste of Teochew Opera is on at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe (B1-3A, Plaza Damas 3, No.63 Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur) from March 28 to 30 at 9pm. Cover charge is RM65. For details and seating purchase, call 012-236 9100 or 03-6211 3000.

How to thrive in opera: Chicago's homegrown scene has the secret

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 04:50 AM PDT

Opera has seen its fortunes diminish in American cities, all except for Chicago. In the windy city, opera is loud, clear and alive!

The plot summary of US opera in recent years has unfolded like the last act of a Verdi tragedy: New York City Opera, dead; Opera Boston, dead; San Diego Opera, on its final aria. The Chicago opera scene, however, is all up-tempo.

The nation's third most populous city has not only preserved its devotion to opera, it has expanded it, despite hard times for the art form elsewhere. Opera experts credit creative programming, solid philanthropic help and a loyal, enthusiastic audience.

"The Chicago opera scene has been unusually vibrant," said F. Paul Driscoll, editor of Opera News magazine, who compared the enthusiasm at Lyric Opera performances to the excitement at sporting events. "Chicago has a huge appetite for music."

Nationally, 2.1% of the US population attended an opera performance in 2012, down from 3.2% in 2002, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

New York City Opera went bankrupt last year. San Diego Opera announced it would close after the current season finishes in April. New York's famed Metropolitan Opera, the nation's largest, reported a budget shortfall.

In contrast, ticket sales for Chicago's Lyric are up 15% for fiscal year 2013, a 14-month period which ended June 30, 2013.

It no longer sells out the season on subscriptions, as it did in the 1990s, but at 72% of ticket sales it still has the biggest subscriber base of any US company, according to Opera America, a national opera service organisation.

The smaller Chicago Opera Theatre (COT), known for out-of-the-box productions like Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie, last year saw a 20% jump in subscribers, said general director Andreas Mitisek.

New companies have sprung up as well. Haymarket Opera Company specialises in the Baroque era, and South Shore Opera Company has done shows using African-American casts, including William Grant Still's Troubled Island.

"There's a hunger for all these different things," said Mitisek, who also directs California's Long Beach Opera.

Reeling them in 

What's going right in Chicago?

One factor is an active, experimental local theatre scene, Mitisek said. So COT can find an audience for shows like Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Eurydice, staged last year at public swimming pools, used as staging for the mythical River Styx.

Northwestern, Roosevelt and DePaul universities all have vocal programmes that feed area companies with fresh talent. And Chicago's generous philanthropic community helps offset the rising costs of mounting operatic productiona, according to opera experts.

Among the most coveted seats in town is on the Lyric Opera's board, which includes Glenn F. Tilton of JP Morgan Chase's executive committee; investor and violinist Howard Gottlieb; and Allan B. Muchin, founding partner of the law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman.

"There's a real commitment, which is an informed commitment, not simply an instinctive emotion," agreed Anthony Freud, Lyric's general director, who came on in 2011.

Lyric has responded to a tougher job selling subscriptions by expanding its offerings. In addition to its eight-opera season, it now offers a musical – next month, it's The Sound of Music.

Lyric also started Lyric Unlimited, with projects ranging from family shows to the world's first mariachi opera. The Second City Guide to the Opera, co-hosted by soprano and Lyric creative consultant Renee Fleming and actor Patrick Stewart, featured comic sketches and songs.

Opera fans interviewed at a recent production of Dvorak's Rusalka said they welcomed new programming, if it helps bring in more young people. "When I'm the youngest person in my row, it's scary," said Wendy Smith, 65.

Lyric is not abandoning the classics. It plans a new production of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, starting in 2016-2017. But fresh programming and US$20 seats for college students bring new fans into Lyric's Art Deco theatre, Freud said.

"For too many years, too many arts organisations existed in hermetically-sealed bubbles," Freud said. "It's no longer tenable simply to do what has been done for decades." – Reuters

Win free tickets to see 'Jersey Boys' in KL

Posted: 22 Mar 2014 09:30 AM PDT

The KL producers of the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys are giving away tickets to the show in a special contest.

Get suited, get booted, and get dolled up! Jersey Boys, the smash hit Broadway musical about rise to stardom of one of the most iconic pop groups of the 1960s, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, will run at KL's Istana Budaya from April 15 to 27.

This award-winning show tells the rags-to-riches story of four streetwise New Jersey sons who made their music dreams come true against the odds. It's a full-scale song-and-dance performance that will thrill theatregoers and pop fans with lots of classic jukebox hits, lots of choreography, and lots of drama—even in the aisles.

Jersey Boys will showcase classic pop tunes like Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man, Can't Take My Eyes Off You and December 1963 (Oh What A Night).

The even better news is that show promoter Milestone Production Sdn Bhd has 104 tickets to give away. Just answer a simple question on their Facebook page to stand a chance to win a free pass to the show. The closing date for the contest is April 10.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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