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Cantonese Opera hits the high notes

YUEJU or Cantonese Opera is one of the major categories of Chinese opera and has been recognized by UNESCO as part of the world's intangible cultural heritage.

For the next two months, acclaimed Hong Kong artists will perform spectacular Yueju Opera, usually high-pitched melodrama accompanied by percussion and suona (traditional oboe-like instrument).

The shows are part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival demonstrating the region's traditional arts and culture in the year of the World Expo in Shanghai.

On August 19-20, Yueju Opera lovers will be treated to a classic performance and a new innovative play at Shanghai Theater Academy. The first performance features excerpts from "The Imperial Emperor of Heaven Holds Court," about the immortals' celebration.

The newly created show "Cao Cao, Guan Yu and Diao Chan" is based on a story of "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." It stars Law Ka-ying as general Guan Yu and Liza Wong as the famous beauty Diao Chan.

Yueju Opera has much in common with other Chinese opera genres. It features varied performing styles, including martial arts, acrobatics and acting. Most plots are based on Chinese history and famous classics and myths.

However, like many other traditional Chinese operas, Yueju Opera also faces difficulties in surviving and developing. The spread of standard Mandarin among the younger generation also puts Cantonese Opera at a disadvantage.

From September 3 to 5, an experimental Yueju Opera, "The Legend of the Purple Jade Hairpin," will be staged. The opera is an attempt by director Fredric Mao to mix the traditional opera with modern elements from film, music and drama.

The romantic play by Tang Xianzu is a new interpretation of the ancient love story between young scholar Li Yi and prostitute Huo Xiaoyu. It's about loyalty, morality, love and faithfulness.

"This play tells people that love is not all about passion; it is a determination, a judgment and a commitment," director Mao says.

The new version of the play is written by "Infernal Affairs" (2003) codirector Alan Mak and "Infernal Affairs" scriptwriter Felix Chong. Oscar-winning artist Tim Yip is the image and costume designer.

All of the plays will be performed in Cantonese with both English and Chinese subtitles.


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