Bright young stars rejuvenate old art

"Everything that I am is due to the love of my fans," said cai luong (refomed opera) performer Thanh Ngan after winning the award for Favourite TV Cai Luong Artist presented by HCM City Television (HTV) last weekend.



 Speaking at the HTV Awards 2009 ceremony held last Saturday at HTV, Ngan said that artists couldn’t live without cai luong and that without fans’ support the music would not survive. Nearly 5,000 fans called in and voted for Ngan’s victory. Ngan also said she felt lucky "to stand here being a winner because my older colleagues are worthy of the honour".

Ngan competed in the talent contest with two finalists, Thoai My and Phuong Hang, who are also excellent cai luong performers. Viewing the tears o­n Ngan’s face, many in the audience were deeply moved by the power of cai luong. HTV’s annual awards aim to recognise performers in music, theatre and film who have made contributions to the country’s culture and the development of the station.

An early start

In her mid-30s, the talented Ngan has faced challenges to lure audiences back to cai luong theatre and revealed that she has to "work very hard, improving my both skills and creation".

"Following in our veteran artists’ footsteps, who lived and worked for the art, we are trying to provide some new offerings for theatre lovers, particularly younger audiences."

Born in a traditional family, Ngan began her career at an early age but she began working as a professional artist when she was 18. In 1996, she performed in Duyen Kiep (Predestination in Love), a play which has launched many famous careers. Through her singing and performance skills, Ngan captured the hearts of audiences, including theatre critics.

"I gave my performance everything I had," said Ngan, who received the Tran Huu Trang Golden Prize awarded in 1996 by the HCM City Stage Art Association (HSA).

Before working for the HCM City-based Tran Huu Trang Theatre, Ngan performed in prestigious cai luong troupes in Ca Mau and Tien Giang provinces. While she deeply respects great stars like Vu Linh and Thanh Thanh Tam, she doesn’t want to live in their shadow. To escape the domination of veterans, Ngan and other young performers have had to work hard to demonstrate their own personal style o­n stage.

Veteran touch

Ngan’s older colleagues, Thoai My and Phuong Hang, are recognised pioneers in cai luong who gave a new spin o­n the form. Born in rural Dong Thap Province, Hang laboured for years to complete her dream of becoming o­ne of the brightest stars o­n the cai luong stage.

In 2005, Hang participated in director Tran Ngoc Giau’s Vu An Ma Nguu (The Secret Case), a quality play which attracted a group of skilled artists.In the play, Hang sang a vong co (Southern nostalgic tune) which contained a record-breaking 99 words.Her beauty and sweet voice are often her signature attraction.

"In comparison with tuong (classical drama, a popular form in the central region) and cheo (northern traditional opera), cai luong is a relatively new type of theatre genre," said Thoai My, winner of o­ne of HSA’s Tran Huu Trang gold prizes.

"To develop the art, our artists need innovation o­n the stage," she added.

My said if tuong was reminiscent of royal courts and cheo popular in the countryside, cai luong had a distinctly urban feature.

"I think we have a reason to attract youth," said the 40-year-old.

Last year, My’s live show, which featured a series of extracts from popular plays at the city’s Lan Anh Stage, attracted more than 5,000 people, many of them part of the city’s intelligentsia.Her work proved that cai luong theatre is still alive.