Text size: A A A Facebook Twitter Email to friends

Cantonese Vernacular Art: Nanyin and Cantonese Opera – Talks cum Demonstration Performances

Venue Date & Time Price
Theatre, Yau Ma Tei Theatre

Cantonese Vernacular Art: Nanyin and Cantonese Opera

Speaker: Yu Siu-wah (Associate Professor, Department of Music, Chinese University of Hong Kong)

It is my usual practice to place the Cantonese Opera of Hong Kong within the same historical and cultural parameters as Cantonese sung music, yue’ou, nanyin, muyu, longzhou, banyan, xianshuige, songs from film soundtracks, themes from television dramas, and Cantopop.   Nanyin was actually the ‘pop music of Hong Kong’ in the early days before records and radio broadcasts came along, or during the 1950s and 60s when the airwave of Hong Kong was filled with vernacular music of the Cantonese, Chiuchow (Chanzhou) and Pekingnese dialects from the radio stations of Hong Kong, when the community was treated to a daily fare of nanyin singing by the blind artist, To Woon, on Radio Hong Kong (later Radio Television Hong Kong).  The nanyin programme lasted between 1955 and 1970. When Radio Hong Kong took it off the air in the early 1970s, this early ‘pop’ of Hong Kong and traditional song art in the Cantonese dialect was never to be heard on the airwaves again. 

Now almost extinct in the pop media, the art of nanyin is closely related to Cantonese Opera and Cantonese sung music, to which it also owes its reason for remaining extant to this day after it disappeared from tea houses.   The three forms are musical expressions of the Cantonese vernacular system, and they face the same issues of wax and wane as pop music.   In this discussion, we will see how nanyin is as much a musical art form within the Cantonese vernacular system as Cantonese Opera.


17.1.2014 (Fri)

Ng Wing-mui's Vocal Art in the Narrative Singing Genre of Dishui Nanyin


Dishui nanyin originally refers to the nanyin ballad singing by blind artists, who were traditionally addressed as “gushi” for men and “shiniang” for women.  Old recordings show that the singers were also mainly male.  The nanyin artists that are active in the last few decades are also mainly male, but most of them have normal eyesight.  So, by this token, can we categorize the nanyin sung by artists with normal eyesight as dishui nanyin?  Why are the nanyin recordings cut by the famous actors in Cantonese Opera also called by this?  What is the meaning behind this?  And is it appropriate to call the blind artists today as “gushi” and “shiniang”?  In this talk, we will trace the development of the vocal subgenre of shiniang qiang (vocal style of female blind artists) in the 21st Century by looking at the two versions of Nocturnal Lament, one sung earlier by Yun-sum, and the other, which is more recent, by Ng Wing-mui.


Performers: Ng Wing-mui, Leung Hoi-lei


24.1.2014 (Fri)

The Role of Jiangxian and the Use of Nanyin in Returning the Qin under the Willows from The Reincarnation of Plum Blossom


In this talk, we will look at a segment of an episode in a Cantonese Opera by Tong Dik-sang, Returning the Qin under the Willows from The Reincarnation of Plum Blossom, which highlights the close relationship between Huiniang, the heroine, and her friend and companion, Jiangxian.  The observations are based on the doctoral thesis of Chan Chak-lui, and quoted courtesy of Dr Chan.


It is interesting to note how the flow of the story can lead to the change in tempi in music, delivered in nanyin.  In the staged version, the sung passage of less than four minutes undergoes four changes, from the baban (eight-beat pattern) to a slow pace, then moderato, before returning to the slowing down in the last section.  But in the dishui nanyin version (as sung music only, usually by the blind artists), the slow segment lasts for seven or eight minutes before picking up and being modulated.  A comparison of the two versions shows how different in appeal they are.  In this talk, the missing segment between Jiangxian and Huiniang will serve as the point of departure.  Then we shall hear the nanyin passage, the dramatic spoken dialogue between the hero and the heroine, and the tune taken from the zheng piece, Rain-lashed Banana Tree by the Window, as a comprehensive overview of the music and dramatic idiom of this operatic excerpt.


Performers: Ling Yan, Chan Chak-lui, Chor Ling-yan


25.1.2014 (Sat)

The Correlation between the Sung and the Spoken Passages in Reunion at the Nunnery from Princess Changping


It is a known fact that the stage versions of Cantonese Opera are often different from the recorded versions; and sometimes, a sung passage that is not in the stage version would be incorporated for performance after being made popular with the record release.  It is a frequent case of interactive give-and-take.


Actors and musicians have often felt the incongruity between the music and the dramatic flow in a sung passage by the heroine in the episode, Reunion at the Nunnery, in the Cantonese Opera, Princess Changping.  That passage, sung to the mode of fanxian erwang, is found in the recording under the Crown Records label and in the popular stage version today.  But if we trace back to the original Princess Changping libretto by Tong Dik-sang in its earliest version, we can see that it was in spoken form.  It was rewritten into a sung passage by Yip Siu-tak in 1961 for the sake of recording.   In this demonstration talk, we shall present the original Tong Dik-sang version, with that part delivered as a spoken passage.  The purpose is to discuss the correlation between a sung passage and a spoken passage in terms of music and drama.


Performers: Ling Yan, Chan Chak-lui



please refer to chinese version


Tickets available from 6 December onwards at all URBTIX outlets, on Internet and by Credit Card Telephone Booking


Half-price tickets available for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and the minder, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients (Limited tickets for full-time students and CSSA recipients available on a first-come-first-served basis)



Programme Enquiries:2268 7325

Ticketing Enquiries:2734 9009

Telephone Credit Card Booking:2111 5999

Internet Booking:www.urbtix.hk


The presenter reserves the right to substitute artists and change the programme should unavoidable circumstances make it necessary

The contents of this programme do not represent the views of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department


now on sale soon on sale

Subscribe our E-newsletter

Latest E-newsletter

Please click here to see latest e-Newsletter (Web Version)

Subscribe LCSD E-magazine

To enjoy the latest information of LCSD firsthand.

Join LCSD E-magazine subscription

facebook like