'Dying art' of opera lives on in S'pore
Cantonese opera veteran Joanna Wong started performing Chinese opera when she was 14, and has since staged more than 2,000 performances in Singapore and in 23 other countries.
The 74-year-old, who gained fame in 1968 for her debut role in a modern adaptation of Madam White Snake, is celebrating her 60-year career with a biography titled Joanna Wong: An Indomitable Life, An Operatic Legacy, which traces her pursuit of Chinese opera.
The Cultural Medallion winner speaks to My Paper about the difficulties of life in Chinese opera.
What were some of the difficulties faced when you decided to venture into Chinese opera?
Time management and finances.
To venture into Chinese opera or other forms of art, you must devote a lot of time to ensure that what you want to do is done well.
Also, as with any type of production, we depend on people, music, to name a few things. So, finances are a problem.
Were there times you felt like giving up?
There were a few times when I thought of giving up.
In the early days, when fellow Cantonese opera musicians died, I felt very disheartened and wanted to give up.
Shortage of funds and relationship problems also disheartened me.
Fortunately, I managed to overcome those feelings and carried on fighting for the survival of this traditional art form.
Can you share some valuable life lessons you've gained from Chinese opera?
It is good to start learning Chinese opera from a young age because you will be agile and flexible, and able to learn quickly. Most importantly, to learn the basics and set a good foundation, you must work hard and persevere.
Do you have any regrets?
Sometimes, I do. There are times when I think that if I hadn't been involved in Chinese opera, I would be enjoying a much more comfortable life, relaxing and travelling. I would be much more comfortable financially too.
Is Chinese opera a dying art in Singapore's arts scene?
Since the 1980s, Chinese opera has been termed a dying art.
After 30 years, this "dying art" is still alive, thanks to enthusiasts who promote it in theatres, community clubs and open-air spaces.
Of course, pop culture is still favoured by the younger generation today.
Young people always say that the Singapore arts industry is a hard scene to break into. Do you have any advice for youth?
The Singapore arts industry is not a hard scene to break into.
If you have the love for the arts, the perseverance, the passion and the mind to do it, it can be done.
Whatever you want to do, be determined and do it well, with all your heart.
Joanna Wong: An Indomitable Life, An Operatic Legacy, written in both Chinese and English, costs $40 each and is available at Chinese Theatre Circle Teahouse, 5 Smith Street. Call 6323-4862 for more details.