STAGE MUSICOver the years, Vietnamese stage acts have included many styles: puppetry, drama, verse drama, lyric drama, dance drama, musical drama, etc. Some bore names from the 11th century, such as TRO` HE^`(buffoonery), TRO` TUO^`NG (comic opera), HA'T CO+?I TRA^`N (bare chested singing), HA'T GIA^'U MA(.T (singing with face covered), some were named in the more recent past, such as TRA.O PHU+O+`NG, CHE`O BO^.I, HA'T TUO^`NG (HA'T BO^.I or HA'T BO^.), HA'T CHE`O, HA'T CA?I LU+O+NG (reformed theatre), etc.
Ha't Tuo^`ng operaIt is recorded that TUO^`NG opera appeared in Vietnam during the Ly' or Tra^`n dynasties (12th and 13th centuries). At that time different performing styles had joined together into a primitive theatrical style called CA?NH TU+O+.NG (Scenes), including dances, songs, martial art acts, circus acts and songs with a storyline enacted by actors with painted faces. From these scenes evolved the TUO^`NG opera, an attractive style which was invariably used during the early Le^ dynasty for the entertainment of the king and the court at ceremonies, feasts and formal court meetings. Under King Le^ Hie^?n To^ng (1740-1786), TUO^`NG opera was highly esteemed. The commoners had their ha't bo^.i theater, while the king divided the actors and singers into three sides, Ngo^, Thu.c, Nguy. (from the Three Kingdom era of China) which fought each other. During the Tri.nh Nguye^~n secession, TUO^`NG was in favour in both regions, and the Southern lord Vo~ Vu+o+ng Nguye^~n Phu'c Khoa't (1739-1765), King Gia Long's grandfather, sent his men as far as Tra^'n Bie^n (Gia Ddi.nh) to gather performers.
Photo : Ha't Tuo^`ng opera, ancient Tuo^`ng opera
DDo^`ng A^'u (children) troupe
In 1804, an opera house called DUYE^.T THI. DDU+O+`NG was built in the royal citadel. King Tu+. Ddu+'c (1847-1880) founded a royal ha't bo^. opera company and gifted poets and bards were recruited into the palace to write dramas. King Tha`nh Tha'i (1889-1909) was so obsessed with tuo^`ng that he acted in a drama. The greatest contributor to the development of Ha't Bo^. Cung DDi`nh (Court or Palace Opera) was Dda`o Ta^'n, who served under kings Tu+. DDu+' c and Tha`nh Tha'i. He founded a singing school named HO.C BO^. DDI`NH and composed about twenty notable dramas\. In cooperation with other dramatists, he wroteVA.N BU+?U TRI`NH TU+O+`NG, a play in 100 acts that took 100 nights to perform. Another big play was QUA^`N PHU+O+NG HIE^'N THU.Y, which consisted or 40 acts and took 40 nights. The common people for their part had a style known as TUO^`NG DDO^`, which was much less rich in variety of form than court opera\. Tuo^`ng ddo^` does not emphasize heroism, loyalty or patiotism (as in the plays SAN HA^.U, CO^? THA`NH, etc.) concentrating instead on conjugal love, friendship and social satire (as in NGHE^U SO` O^'C HE^'N, TRA^`N BO^`, TRU+O+NG NGA'O, etc.).
Tuo^`ng had different performance styles:
* NO'I LO^'I (Oratory styles) which included No'i Lo^'i Tuo^`ng (self introductions of the characters), No'i Lo^'i Bo'p (exchanges between ennemy leaders), No'i Lo^'i Da(.m (almost like normal conversation), etc.
* THA'N (Lament), NGA^M (Recitative), forms of XU+O+'NG (intonation) which included Tha'n Nho+' (lament of yearning), Tha'n Sa^`u (lament of sadness), Tha'n Che^'t (lament of death), Tha'n Ha^.n (Lament of hatred). A Tha'n lament often preceded a HA'T NAM song.
* HA'T NAM, which included Nam Xua^n (preparing to leave), Nam Ai, Nam Thu+o+ng (for sad parts), Nam Thie^n (for monks), Nam Ho^`n (for ghosts), Nam DDi, Nam Cha.y (walk and run, i.e. scenes of war and upheaval), etc.
* HA'T KHA'CH (Chinese poems) which included Kha'ch Thu+o+`ng (officers in battle or on patrol), Kha'ch Phu' (conversation), Kha'ch Ta^?u (pursuing the ennemy or other urgent task), Kha'ch Tu+? (dying warriors).
Tuo^`ng also used other tunes such as the LY' (for highland people), the GIA' BAN, the QUY`NH TU+O+NG, etc. The orchestra consisted of strings, winds and most importantly percussions.
By the beginning of the 20th century, ancient Tuo^`ng Co^?, Ha't Bo^. and central region Ha't Bo^. (especially court or palace Ha't Bo^.) went into decline as the French imposed their colonial regime. Tuo^`ng Co^?'s traditions managed to survive here and there largely due to the work of Confucian societies, such as in Bi`nh Ddi.nh. In the North, Tuo^`ng Co^? was centered in the Qua?ng La.c theatre in Hanoi and underwent renovations to attract an audience. The company manager, Tra^`n Phe^`nh, who was also a well known artist and musician, contributed many new pieces. In the South, the traditions of Tuo^`ng DDo^` and palace-style Tuo^`ng Cung Ddi`nh which predominated in the previous centuries were gradually superceded by the Tuo^`ng Ca?i Lu+o+ng Nam Ky` (Southern Reformed Opera), which included Chinese and Western Tuo^`ng.
HA''T CHE`OCHE`O is a musical theatre of the common folk in ancient North Vietnam with roots going back to the 11th and 12th centuries. It took form towards the end of the 18th century and reached its peak during the 19th. It started to decline during the early 20th century, and has been revived since the 50s. The name CHE`O was probably a mispronunciation of TRA.O PHU+O+`NG. According to Pha.m DDi`nh Ho^? (VU~ TRUNG TU`Y BU'T), "tra.o phu+o+`ng" were minstrel troupes who used to sing at funerals in the Ly' dynasty. These troupes were also known as PHU+O+`NG CHE`O BO^.I, and apart from singing at funerals they also sang for the people's entertainment.
Photo : Ancient performing art of the Northern countryside
offspring of phu+o+`ng che`o bo^.i, and progenitor of Ha't A? DDa`o, Ha't Che`o
Under King Ca?nh Hu+ng (1740-1786), phu+o+`ng che`o bo^.i had airs such as the hue^ ti`nh which sang the praise of the king and he court. Actresses danced lantern dances, flower dances and perform rope walking. Although they share a common origin in PHU+O+`NG CHE`O BO^.I, HA'T A? DDA`O (geisha singing) concentrated on ceremonial and celebratory music (ha't tho+`, ha't khao, ha't vo.ng), while CHE`O took up story telling using songs and gestures, and managed to create a duplicate life on the stage in opposition to real life, by using musical plays with a strong social content. CHE`O reflects very accurately the life of the country people of old Vietnam.
During its formation, CHE`O bore the name CHE`O SA^N DDI`NH (temple yard theatre) and was a creation of North Vietnamese farmers. The stage was a reed mat spread in the middle of the temple's courtyard, with the audience sitting on all four sides. There was no stage setting or decoration. The actors wore everyday clothes, and only the clown painted his face\. Gradually CHE`O became more and more professionalized, becoming the domain of hereditary professional actors..
In the beginnings, CHE`O played the same role as minstrel shows, but did it with more skill and technique than the Xa^?m singers. CHE`O recounted old tales in a more coherent manner, with realistic roles backed up by dancers to increase the attraction. Vietnamese narrative poems such as LU+U BI`NH DU+O+NG LE^~, QUAN A^M THI. KI'NH, PHAN TRA^`N, KIM VA^N KIE^`U, etc. were adapted for the stage. CHE`O reflected life in the countryside and always contained a moral lesson, criticizing evil and praising goodness.
After a hundred years of development, CHE`O began to alter when the French invasion came. The CHE`O stage now faced the audience in the Italian theater style and performances were conducted indoors, with lighting and decor. To compete with TUO^`NG, towards 1923 CHE`O became Che`o Va(n Minh (civilized Che`o). The plays (which used to be performed continuously) were broken into acts between which the curtains were drawn, timing became more strict, and certain elements were incorporated from TUO^`NG.
A person who contributed much to the advance of CHE`O was the producer Nguye^~n DDi`nh Nghi\. He eliminated unbecoming foreign elements and increased the attractions of CHE`O to a growingly demanding audience, while preserving its characteristics. He produced plays which he called called Che`o Ca?i Lu+o+ng (Reformed Che`o) at Hanoi's Sa'n Nhie^n DDa`i theatre. In addition to old plays of quality, there were new pieces involving city folks such as co^ tho^ng (Miss interpreter), di` pha'n (Mme official), tha^`y ky' (Mr secretary), li'nh ta^.p (soldier), me Ta^y (Frenchman's wife), ddo^.i xe^'p (gendarme), co^ dda^`u (geisha), chu' kha'ch (Chinaman). Under French rule, Che`o had a dissident character, albeit a passive one. Reformed Che`o satirized society through the persona of a drunk played by Nguye^~n DDi`nh Nghi.
CHE`O music is very diverse. Ancient Che`o had a full repertoire of recitatives and songs.
* Recitatives (NO'I) included No'i Va(.t (miscellaneous recitatives, for all roles), No'i Vi?a (introductions to songs), No'i Lo^'i Ke^? (students going to the exams, well- to-do folk), No'i Lu+?ng (wicked or lecherous woman's talk), No'i Ha.nh (monk's role), No'i Su+? (self introduction), etc..
* Singing styles: Ha't Ca'ch (returning successful examination candidate), Ha't Sa Le^.ch (courting), Ha't Sa('p Co^? Phong (dignified or formal talk), Ha't Nhi.p DDuo^?i (soldiers' song), Ha't La`n Tha?m (sad role), Ha't Ddie^n (demented singing), Ha't Say (drunken singing), etc. Other Ancient Che`o tunes included Ca^'m Gia', Bi`nh Tha?o, DDa`o Lie^~u, Ha't Luye^.n. Reformed Che`o introduced new tunes such as Lu+u Thu?y (flowing water), Ha`nh Va^n (floating cloud), and even songs set to western tunes as in Ca?i Lu+o+ng Nam Ky`(Southern reformed opera).
Nowadays CHE`O has been resurrected with all its original characteristics, and with added plays, tunes and dances.
Photo: New Che`o - "Who Wants Onions and Garlic"
Hanoi Che`o company.
CA?I LU+O+NG NAM KY` (Southern Reformed Theatre)CA?I LU+O+NG NAM KY` (Southern Reformed Opera) Some time before 1917, as World War I raged in Europe, the French in Indochina organized a drive to help the "mother country". Public employees were encouraged to produce translated French plays and sell tickets to a Vietnamese audience. In the cities and in the countryside, public employees acted in Molie`re\'s L'Avare, translated into Vietnamese. Victor Hugo's Les Miserable was also made into a play. This new prose theater was greeted with acclaim. Some people saw that the symbolism of Ha't Bo^. and the realism of prose theater could be combined into a new style. In Vi~nh Long, on the day government bonds were sold to help the "mother country", Tra^`n Va(n Thie^.t (musician Duy La^n's father), To^'ng Hu+~u DDi.nh, Tra^`n Va(n Hu+o+`n, Tra^`n Va(n Die^.m (Professor Tra^`n Va(n Khe^ and musician Tra^`n Va(n Tra.ch's grandfather) and a few others produced a concert during which, after some CA TA`I TU+? (Southern Amateur singing), there was an item called CA RA BO^. (songs with gestures). This was a scene based on the narrative poem LU.C VA^N TIE^N by Ddo^` Chie^?u, in which BU`I KIE^.M tried to woo NGUYE^.T NGA and was reprimanded by old Mr BU`I\. The song used for the scene was TU+' DDA.I OA'N (Lament of Four Generations), which belonged to the Southern Amateur repertoire and originated in Hue^' chamber music.
Photo : Tra^`n Va(n Die^.m
(Professor Tra^`n Va(n Khe^'s grandfather),
Actor Nguye^~n To^'ng Trie^`u
founder of Southern Amateur Music.
CA RA BO^. was an immediate success. A new play, O^NG BA' HO^. GO`N CHO VAY (The Rich Lender), was quickly written and produced to support the bond campaign. It was the forerunner of Southern Reformed Opera\. The first troupe to use CA RA BO^. was the THA^`Y THA^.N Company, directed by Andre' Tha^.n, a policeman from Sadec. The company was founded in 1917 by members of the SADEC-AMIS society. It was a semi- professional troupe which used to performed Amateur singing and circus acts. In 1918, the DDO^`NG BA`O NAM (Southern Compatriots) company changed the name CA RA BO^. into HA'T KIM THO+`I (Modern Age singing) but otherwise kept the same style, and performed short plays such as + KIE^`U, O+N DDE^`N OA'N TRA? (Returning Favours and Settling Feuds), CO^ BA LU+U LA.C (The Wandering Girl). At this early stage, theater was the creation of Confucian scholars who lived close to the farmers. The plays borrowed from old folk tales and tended to have a moralizing character. Performing techniques were simple and natural. Up until 1920 a number of companies were founded and relied on old tales such as O^NG TRU+O+NG TIE^'N BU+?U, BA' NGO^. MAI, KY` DUYE^N PHO^?, THA(`NG LA~NH BA'N HEO\. Music was still of the chamber style (Amateur) and consisted of six Northern songs, three Southern songs and five Oa'n laments of which TU+' DDA.I OA'N (the Four Generations Lament) was the centerpiece. They also performed BI`NH KIE^`U (Kie^`u recitation) in which parts of the famous narrative poem was read in the NGA^M, NO'I recitative styles.
The term CA?I LU+O+NG (Reformed) appeared for the first time in 1920 with the birth of a big company, TA^N THINH, directed by Tru+o+ng Va(n Tho^ng of Cho+. Lo+'n (near Saigon). Its strength was in having two librettists, competent actors and singers, and good technique\. The plays reflected deeper concerns of the society of the time, such as in BA.CH TUYE^'T KIE^N TRINH. The songs included MADELON, a French song with Vietnamese words, to greet the audience before the play started. Subsequently many troupes were formed: VA(N HI' BAN in Cho+. Lo+'n, TA^.P HI' BAN in Tho^'t No^'t, TA'I DDO^`NG BAN in My~ Tho, THA^`Y THUO^'C MINH in So'c Tra(ng, etc.; together with the TA^N THINH company they contributed to the rapid development of Southern Reformed Opera. With a large complement of talented artists, lead by innovative producers, Ca?i Lu+o+ng reformed opera became an attractive entertainment style. First many Chinese operas (TUO^`NG TA^`U) were produced, with storylines and costumes which originated from Ha't Bo^. but had been "reformed". Old plays like PHU.NG NGHI DDI`NH, TIE^'T DDINH SAN CA^`U PHA`N LE^ HUE^, XU+? A'N BA`NG QUY' PHI, TRA?M TRI.NH A^N, etc. were now presented in a realistic style with more pleasant music. The Confucian scholars were no longer influential, instead sponsorship now came mainly from big merchants or landowners with a Western education (termed Ba(.c Lie^u squires) such as + Ba.ch Co^ng Tu+? (the White Squire) or Ha('c Co^ng Tu+? (the Black Squire).
With the birth of the TRA^`N DDA('T and PHU+O+'C CU+O+NG companies, Ca?i Lu+o+ng added to its repertoire the TUO^`NG TA^Y ("Western operas"), so called because these plays were based on French stories, the actors wore French or Vietnamese costumes, spoke in plain language, and sang new songs, sometimes French songs with Vietnamese lyrics. The artists Tu+ Cho+i and Na(m Cha^u of the TRA^`N DDA('T and PHU+O+'C CU+O+NG companies, and actresses such as + Na(m Phi? and Kim Thoa introduced Vietnamese songs based on French tunes to be used in Ca?i Lu+o+ng. From these origins would come the Ca?i Ca'ch (reformed) music and then the Ta^n Nha.c (modern Vietnamese) music of the present day. Tu+ Cho+i wrote song and dance acts in the French ope'rette style\. .
Ca?i Lu+o+ng "king" Na(m Cha^u
Also counted among the Tuo^`ng Ta^y were TUO^`NG XA~ HO^.I (social operas), based on contemporary Vietnamese novels
Phu`ng Ha', Tu+ U't in the social opera KHU'C OAN VO^ LU+O+.NG (1927)
Over nearly a century, CA?I LU+O+NG theatre rose and ebbed, but continued to incorporate new elements. In addition to the early (around 1930) "Chinese" and "Western" operas (TUO^`NG TA^`U, TUO^`NG TA^Y), the TA^N THINH company introduced TU O^`NG PHA^.T (Buddhist operas) and TUO^`NG TIE^N (Fairy operas) around 1938, the MO^.NG VA^N and NHA.N TRA('NG companies introduced "Roman" operas around 1940, the HA^.U TA^'N and HOA SEN companies introduced War operas around 1950. With increasing foreign influences, things got somewhat out of hand with "Japanese" (THU'Y NGA company), "Indian", "Mongol", "Egyptian", "Highland" operas and so on. But there were times when Ca?i Lu+o+ng turned back to the national spirit with the VIE^.T KI.CH (Vietnamese Theatre) company of Na(m Cha^u and its productions TA^Y THI GIRL OF VIE^.T and TA^'M CA'M, or the PHU+O+'C CHUNG company with its patriotic dramas. That was during the national Resistance war, as the whole nation united to fight the re-invading French.
On the musical side, Ca?i Lu+o+ng constantly introduced new songs. In the early stages, the repertoire consisted of six Northern pieces, three Southern pieces, five Oa'n laments of which the TU+' DDA.I OA'N (Four Generations Lament) was the centerpiece, and a few additional airs such as XUA^N PHONG (Sping Breeze) and HA`NH VA^N (Floating Clouds). Since Cho+. Lo+'n frequently hosted Cantonese troupes, the "Chinese" operas of Southern CA?I LU+O+NG incorporated a number of Chinese tunes with Vietnamese verses. They were known as DDie^.u Qua?ng (Cantonese airs) and included KHO^?NG MINH TO.A LA^`U, TO^ VU~ MU.C DU+O+NG, CAO SAN, TAM PHA'P NHA^.P MO^N, KHO^'C HOA`NG THIE^N, MA^~U TA^`M TU+?, BA`I TA., NGU~ DDIE^?M, XA'I PHI?, MA`N PA(?NG, CHU'NG PA(?NG, etc. In the developing period, a lament similar to the tune Ha`nh Va^n was introduced: DA. CO^? HOA`I LANG (Longing for Husband as Drums Sound in the Night), a song of twenty verses composed by Sa'u La^`u.
Sa'u La^`u, author of Da. Co^? Hoa`i Lang
This was to become the VO.NG CO^? (Longing for the Past), the main song of CA?I LU+O+NG, evolving from a two beat meter to four, then eight, then sixteen, then 32 beats. As the beats multiplied, the verses became longer and longer so that only six verses remained. When producer Mo^.ng Va^n introduced "Roman" operas, he also wrote new songs (termed canh ta^n or updated songs) such as GIANG TO^, THU? PHONG NGUYE^.T, SO+N DDO^NG HU+O+'NG MA~, TA^N XA'I PHI?, TA^'N PHONG, VA.N THO. .
Present day Ca?i Lu+o+ng also makes use of many reformed or modern pieces..