Malaysia through the lenses of a Mat Salleh
By Philippe A.Durant
Day 29: Chinese Opera
The first opera I saw was in Penang in 2014. I was very intrigued and asked one of the actors from the troop if I could go backstage to see the make-up and costume preparations. The two hours of meticulous and repetitive work impressed me as much as the atmosphere and the colors. What was surprising was the fact that there were very few spectators. One lady told me that many people, especially the young ones, are no longer interested in the traditional form of art and that there were very few actors left in the country. That particular troupe came from Thailand. Of course, I did not understand the story and could not culturally relate to it, but it was fascinating.
Since then, I have watched performances in Kajang, Batu Gajah, Malacca, Gopeng and Ipoh. Each time I was invited backstage. The performances always take place in the hall in front of a temple. I was told that during the Hungry Ghost Festival, operas are played for the ghost of the dead and not the humans, which explains why no one really comes to watch during that period. However during other times, the halls in Perak Are still full of spectators and professional troops from Hong Kong were invited yearly before Covid. Here are some of the moments I captured.
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