Social & Cultural Life: Cantonese opera

Cantonese opera

Cantonese opera

Usually, the Sing Kew admitted toddlers and children free; adults paid from twenty-five cents to a dollar-fifty, depending on what time they entered the smoky theatre and which stars were singing that evening . . . Every adult knew the opera stories by heart, so between shifts at work—or rounds of mah-jong or fan-tan—opera devotees could stop by for their favourite arias. Those who walked in after nine o'clock paid much less—an appealing option, given that a typical performance began at seven often lasted until midnight, long enough to test the endurance of the most dedicated fan.

from Paper Shadows , p. 47, by Wayson Choy

Because sojourners yearned for their homeland, they had built Chinatown as a resemblance of the parts of Hong Kong and the treaty port cities of coastal south China that they had come from and been familiar with. Chinatown became a concentration of Chinese culture and entertainment. In recreating Chinese culture, Chinatown stressed heavily on the Chinese arts, entertainments and recreation. One of the earliest institutions established was the theatre for Chinese opera in the Canton-Shanghai Alley complex. Later theatres showed both Chinese opera and modern style Chinese plays. Schools and associations promoted music, martial arts, and literary and fine arts.

Between 1890 and 1920, early Chinese immigrants settled in what was known as Shanghai Alley and Canton Alley. Although Shanghai Alley was home to more than 1,000 Chinese residents in 1890, much of the community's activities and entertainment evolved around a 500 seat Sing Kew Theatre built in 1898. Situated in the centre of the Chinese alleys, the Theatre became a hub of vibrant nightlife, opera music, shopping, political and cultural activities.

The early promoters of Cantonese opera in Vancouver were Chinatown merchants of considerable standing and wealth. Opera troupes often joined local Chinatown organizations for fundraising performances for causes in China . In the era during which the majority society continued to exclude Chinatown for its perceived alienness, Vancouver 's Chinese residents had more opportunity than ever to enjoy their favourite entertainment, Cantonese opera. The Chinatown theatre particularly reflected conditions across the Pacific in South China, where there were huge developments of opera companies in China and Hong Kong . As a result, there were many traveling Cantonese troupes through not only Vancouver, but to other areas across the Chinese diaspora.
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