Foreigners get a taste of Cai luong

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Several foreign visitors to the Hanoi Cai Luong Theater wore head sets the other night to watch the company's first ever cai luong opera translated into English, at Chuong Vang Theater on August 13.

According to theater director Tran Quang Hung, the opera, Menh de vuong (King's Fate), was an effort to gauge foreign audiences' interest in cai luong, a form of traditional Vietnamese folk opera which has its roots in the Mekong Delta.

"King's Fate," which tells the story of the tragic life of Ly Chieu Hoang (1218-1278), Vietnam's only Empress regnant, followed comedy sketches and cheo, a form of satirical musical theater from northern Vietnam. The opera focuses on the tensions created by strict gender roles and other social relationships in feudal Vietnamese society.

"The only people coming to see cai luong now are old men and women and street vendors, you rarely see the middle-aged or youth. We often look out into the house seats and we get worried. So we gotta [reach out to another audience], it's probably even a little late already," said Hung, who also directed Menh de vuong.

Unlike the cheo or comedy sketches, where only the summaries were made available in English, the theater translated the entire 105-minute cai luong opera. The theater has eschewed a recorded translation for a live interpretation, to ensure the English is able to keep up with varied rhythms of every performance.

After opening night, a question and answer session was held to collect feedback from the audience, according to the director.

"A middle-aged man suggested that he didn't like the play itself, but he did like the costumes and actors. Two younger visitors were very excited about the performance. We depend on this kind of feedback to decide if and how we will continue," said Hung.

"We expect to have something more to offer to tourists in addition to water puppet shows," said the director, who plans to have other classic operas translated into English in the near future.

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