Reformed opera recreation celebrates afresh the heroism of Trưng sisters

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Thu Anh

Young actors of HCM City’s Trần Hữu Trang Cải Lương Theatre perform in the new version of the famous play TiếngTrống Mê Linh (The sounds of Mê Linh Drum) which features national heroines Hai Bà Trưng (Two Trưng Sisters) in 40AD. — Photo courtesy of the theatre

HCM CITY — A new version of the 1977 cải lương (reformed opera) play featuring national heroines Hai Bà Trưng (Two Trưng Sisters) has been staged by a leading HCM City theatre.

Young actors of the Trần Hữu Trang Cải Lương Theatre, a prominent institution in the southern region, have restaged the play titled Tiếng Trống Mê Linh (The Sounds of Mê Linh Drum).

The play delves into the lives of Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, the two sisters who led the nation’s first resistance movement against Chinese occupiers in the first century, around 2,000 years ago.

The sisters led their troops on elephants to repel Chinese invasions. Their victories liberated Đại Việt (old name for Việt Nam) after 247 years of Chinese domination.

Meritorious Artist Thanh Ngân (left) performs as the older sister Trưng Trắc in Tiếng Trống Mê Linh (The sounds of Mê Linh Drum) directed by People’s Artist Trần Ngọc Giàu. Photo courtesy of the producer

The play stars Meritorious Artist Thanh Ngân as the older sister Trưng Trắc, while young actor Trọng Phúc plays General Thi Sách, Trưng Trắc’s husband.

“Our young actors will offer a taste of true cải lương, a traditional southern theatre genre that originated in the early 1920s in the Cửu Long (Mekong) River Delta region, with modern performance techniques,” said the play’s director, People’s Artist Trần Ngọc Giàu.

Giàu said he used young performers because he wanted to “refresh the play.”

“In my version in 2022, TiếngTrống Mê Linh introduces the art in both old and new styles,” he said.

Unforgettable history

Cải lương guru Thanh Nga. — Photo courtesy of the artist’s family

The original version of Tiếng Trống Mê Linh was staged in HCM City in 1977. It featured the late talented actress Thanh Nga as Trưng Trắc. The play was performed several hundred times in the city and southern provinces.

Thanh Nga introduced a unique style of cải lương in essaying the role.

Her beauty, voice and dance skills became a phenomenon.

After Tiếng Trống Mê Linh was aired on television, Nga and her art became popular among audiences in Hà Nội and nothern provinces.

Born in 1942 to a traditional family in Tây Ninh Province, Nga (real name Juliette Nguyễn Thị Nga) was a child prodigy.

She learned the art from her parents, Năm Nghĩa and Nguyễn Thị Thơ, owners of the Thanh Minh-Thanh Nga Troupe, a well known cải lương troupe in the region.

She won the Gold Medal for Best Theatre Actress at the Thanh Tâm Awards (now Trần Hữu Trang Awards presented by the HCM City Theatre Association) in 1958.

She performed leading roles in several famous plays, working with People’s Artist Phùng Há, Thành Được and Hữu Phước, all considered cải lương gurus.

In 1971, she became involved in films. She acted in prize-winning films directed by talented artists such as Lê Dân and Lê Hoàng Hoa.

She received the Best Film Actress Award at the Asian Film Festival held in 1973 in Taiwan.

Nga performed in more than 50 plays, including famous historical works like Thái Hậu Dương Vân Nga (Queen Mother Dương Vân Nga) and Tiếng Trống Mê Linh (The Sounds of Mê Linh Drum).

She was assassinated in 1978 after a show in HCM City and was posthumously honoured as a Meritorious Artist by the Government in 1984.

A street in District 6 has been named after her.

In 2018, a documentary film on Nga and her career between the 1950s and 70s was released on YouTube to pay tribute to the artist 40 years after her death.

The film, titled 40 Năm Tưởng Nhớ Cố Nghệ Sĩ Tài Danh, NSUT – Nữ Hoàng Sân Khấu – Ảnh Hậu Châu Á Thanh Nga (40 years in memory of Meritorious Artist and Queen of Theatre Thanh Nga), highlights her devotion tor cải lương and her important role in developing traditional theatre forms of the southern region.

The film, which has more than 200,000 views to date, helps viewers, particularly the youth, learn more about cải lương and the art form’s development.

“Thanh Nga was my idol. Her art inspired me to devote my life to cải lương,” said People’s Artist Bạch Tuyết, who has spent more than 60 years on the stage.

Director Giàu said his latest venture is also an earnest effort to popularise the art form further.

“Our new version of Tiếng Trống Mê Linh targets young audiences. We want to encourage the youth to learn more about Vietnamese history and culture through theatre,” Giàu told local media before the play’s premiere on February 15.

Tiếng Trống Mê Linh is staged every Sunday night at Trần Hữu Trang Cải Lương Theatre, 136Đ Trần Hưng Đạo Street, District 1. — VNS

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