The Straits Times–“Young opera performers at Ngee Ann Teochew Cultural Festival promote Teochew culture”

SINGAPORE – Republic Polytechnic student Tan Wei Tian, 19, has a busy stage schedule at the upcoming Ngee Ann Teochew Cultural Festival.

Not only does she take on the leading role in the opera Su Liu Niang, which kicks off the free three-day event on April 15, but she also performs in two other operas: Female Warriors From The Yang Family – Reconnaissance on April 16 and The Young Lin Da-Qin on April 17.

Tan, who has been learning the art form since she was three years old, says: “I hope that people interested in Teochew operas will be able to watch and enjoy the performances and that this year’s festival will be able to garner more interest among youth to appreciate Teochew arts and culture.”

Organised by the Ngee Ann Cultural Centre (NACC) and sponsored by The Ngee Ann Kongsi, the festival has been held annually since 2013. It was put on hold for the past two years because of the pandemic.

This year, NACC has partnered Nam Hwa Opera to present the Teochew Opera Extravaganza to promote traditional Teochew opera and music, especially to the younger generation.

It is fitting then that the extravaganza will feature seven pre-school performers aged three to six, as well as 14 primary school pupils, a secondary school student and three students from tertiary institutions.

There are 90 performers altogether who will appear in 12 operas, to be staged at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre.

In Su Liu Niang, Tan portrays a beautiful and wealthy maiden who falls in love with her cousin, but suffers repeated setbacks. The lovebirds elope with the help of her maidservant and an old boatman.

The opera is directed by Nam Hwa’s 27-year-old artistic director Li Lv-Qiao.

Maha Bodhi School pupil Sophie Ng, nine, who will be performing as a female general in Dao Ma Dan, started training for the role a year ago.

“It highlights all the famous female generals who had contributed in the olden times. I also wish to be as great as them when I grow up,” says Sophie, who has been learning opera since she was three.

Besides the classics, the festival will also feature two specially commissioned Teochew operas. One of them, Matchmaking At Five Foot Way, is set in Singapore’s Boat Quay in the 1960s and features samsui women.

Known for their red headscarves, these Chinese female immigrants were the traditional source of manpower in the construction industry in Singapore and made invaluable contributions to the country’s early development.

Mr Toh Lim Mok, president of Nam Hwa Opera, says that while the troupe provides a platform for adults to be performers or fans, it also develops the talent of children from as young as three to keep the art form alive.

The nurturing efforts include two school outreach events in April and May, where performers from the troupe will share about Teochew opera and music.

Nam Hwa was conferred the Stewards of Singapore’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Award by the National Heritage Board in 2021 for grooming young opera performers and encouraging veterans to preserve the nation’s cultural roots and traditional arts.

Mr Chia Chor Meng, chairman of The Ngee Ann Kongsi’s cultural sub-committee, says the organisers hope to attract 2,000 to 3,000 people to the Teochew Opera Extravaganza’s six sessions over three days.

Book It
Ngee Ann Teochew Cultural Festival: Teochew Opera Extravaganza
Where: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre Auditorium, 1 Straits Boulevard
When: April 15 to 17, 2.30 and 7pm daily
Admission: Free; register here
Info: All shows will have English and Chinese subtitles