Opera Lady

9th October 2021 Dr Beena

Hello everyone. Today let’s discuss a rather unusual topic. Yeah, it is about Chinese Opera. My friend Cheng Hwai Jen painted this beautiful Opera Lady. However, in her view, the standard of this painting is that of someone who is five years of age. I disagreed with her. At last, she allowed me to post this painting so I could write my thoughts on it.

What is Chinese Opera? It is an amalgamation of various art forms but mainly a musical theatre that began in the early periods of China and reached its mature form in the 13th century under the Song Dynasty. It was the main form of entertainment for both rural and urban folks and has gone through a turbulent history.

Here I will describe what I remember. During the Ghost Festival, my father used to bring me to watch these Opera shows. Ghost Festival falls on the 15th night of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It is a Taoist and Buddhist festival held in certain East Asian Countries. During that month, dancers, singers and opera troops performed live concerts on a temporary stage. The front row seats are left empty so that the ghosts can watch these performances😊😊. I always looked forward to this annual event.

When I reflect on these innocuous outings with my father, I comprehend how he introduced me to the various cultures without prejudice. Maybe that early exposure in my childhood helped me assimilate with other races with ease. As children, all we think about is fun and the next adventure😉😉. As my father had friends from various races, he would bring us to their festivals, and we loved them as there were lots of food😊.  At that young age, I did not perceive diversity. Of course, we differed in many aspects like appearance, food, language and customs. But we spoke English😊 and that was all that mattered then. I never felt much different as I enjoyed eating different types of food from other races. Maybe food dissipates the differences😊. When we eat together, it allows conversation, and we absorb new knowledge better. I am not sure. Have you observed that food, music, and sports bring us together?

I would love to read about your experience when you tried the food of other races. Did that help you understand the customs and culture of other races? On that note, I wish everyone peace till the next musing 😊.

18 thoughts on “Opera Lady

  1. Surprised to learn that Chinese opera shows was performed during ghosts festival in your country.
    And interesting to know the front row seats are emptied for VIP ghosts.

  2. Loved reading this post that has left endearing memories of how positive parental experiences leave wonderful lifetime foundations and memories …how important they are in the life of an individual. For us too it was food that was a great leveler at my home where we used to invite our local friends from many of my father’s work stations in the Middle Eastern countries, where he was posted, and we’d explain what each Indian dish was and get back the same experience vice versa on return invitations.
    Food is a keen indicator of love, caring and sharing from the soul universally.

    1. Yes I feel food helps to bind us. I remember drinking mint tea in a desert in Egypt from a nomadic lady in her tent. It tasted so good. Then I learnt how the tea was made. She also showed me her handicraft made from tiny beads. As you said food is love and its universal.

    1. I am intrigued by facial make up used in dance dramas. We have that in Kathakali too. It is dance drama, also used to tell stories in an open air theatre. The facial.art takes hours to do and am sure its very tedious.

  3. Dear Beena, your post brought back happy memories of childhood wayang days. The afternoon and night time performances of the different dialect (mainly Hokkien and Teochew ) opera troupes were fascinating and enchanting to all of us. The heavy make up and colourful costumes dripping in glittering sequins and beads were mesmerising and a big draw to me and my siblings. Many of my neighbours were bothered by the din these opera troupes created while they were in the neighbourhood, but when they were gone, you wished they had stayed on a little longer as the wayang added much buzz and excitement to the entire neighbourhood. The wayang also brought on with them many food vendors selling fried oysters, fried kway teow, ice cream, ice kacangs and lots of other goodies that made one salivate. The night air was filled with the aromas of these mouth-watering food admist the loud, shrill singing accompanied by clashing cymbals and booming drum beats and screeching string ensemble. Those were the days… never mind if we didn’t really fully understand the stories that the poor opera artistes were trying to tell.

  4. Hey you added a whole lot of what goes with the Opera shows. Yea I do remember it was noisy but then it was fun too. The colours on the face denotes certain meaning of the character.
    We lost the essence of the story but captured the culture of that show. Without fail the show must go on😀😀

  5. The opera lady dressed this way brings to mind the geisha in the opera madam butterfly which ran in the Broadway NY for almost a decade or more. I have been fascinated by the make up which almost hides the feelings on her face. The make up is like a facade to protect her feelings from being revealed to others I thought.

    The painting is very beautiful giving lots of details…love it. Even more fascinating is how each one of us have different memories woven around the same paintings. Points to the infinite beauty of diversity in this world without which our planet cannot survive. Different race ..culture…food … likes …dislikes.. all add immense contrast and beauty to our world.
    This is my musing of geisha in this opera.

    1. Dear Shobha, thank you for your compliments on my painting. I don’t have any formal training on painting. 🙏

  6. Dear Beena, Very interesting reading. You introduced me to a different culture altogether. The childhood memories are precious with parents. Brought back memories of dad taking us kids to watch kathakali by late evening. Didn’t understand the theme at that time. Just played around and returned after dinner there.
    The painting is beautiful. Best wishes to your friend.

    1. Thanks Uma. Yes time teaches us lessons much later in life. Am glad that the painting and story are both universal themes.

  7. Hwai Ken’s painting is certainly not that of a five year old’s. It actually captures the art of opera lady with that heavy make up and elaborate costume jewelry very well. I remember vaguely the temporary stage that is put up in the open space for this opera presentation near my place long ago. Interesting to watch actually though I couldnt understand the language . This art form is, sad to say, a rare sight now. It also brings me to my beautiful memory of the dance drama that I had the opportunity to watch when I was in Bali. Just like the Chinese opera the Balinese had their own dance drama that captivated me simply because of the elaborate costumes , the headgearand makeup depicting the good and evil characters in the show. Cultures may vary but these ancient arts are universal in their themes and moral values.
    And Beena you are absolutely right about what enriches our lives. Our memories. Our childhood memories are often tied to our experiences of those little things that we did with family or friends. Our perception of life is very much influenced by these childhood memories I would say. Thus the response to the painting too is varied. Through our musings we share our own experiences with other like minded people and in so doing we enrich ourselves. So let’s continue sharing our thoughts through these paintings folks.

    1. Glad to read that Jen’s painting is great. I just wish the baby boomers had more confidence with ourselves. If you observe the milenials they are a confident bunch.
      Am hoping more will write their thoughts as stories at this web site😀😀.
      Thanks Nila

    2. Thanks Nila for your kind comments. 🙏Agree with you that ancient arts are universal in their themes and moral values.

  8. I’m sure more will join in just like I did Beena. I find writing here is more like exploring myself just like how your paintings are to you. Kind of anew venue to express oneself.

  9. The stare of the eyes and the flared nostrils have really captured the essence of the operatic drama. I wish I can understand more of the various types of Chinese opera. It’s a real challenge without subtitles on the side.

    Agree with you totally on food being able to bring different cultures together. More important still is that we can all sit together at the same table and enjoy the food and drinks and conviviality of each other’s company without the censure of religion, but respectful of another’s belief and practice.

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