Cantonese Opera in Macau

We return to the main island after our jaunts across the Taipa island, known for its glitzy brand new casinos, charming village in the quaint Coloane, the southernmost island of Macau. Of course not before tasting the mouthwatering egg-tarts and a sumptuous dinner in Miramar.

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival
Characters in a Chinese opera wear elaborate make up

We can’t believe that we had covered all these and a lot more, in the course of just half a day. Many of these will make it into an article or two in days to come!

There was just one more thing to do before turning in for the night … no, not the casinos. We move to an old part of the town towards the temple of Tou Tei, the god of land or earth or property or even wealth as you may want to call him as per your context. He is so important that it is not uncommon to see a small idol or statuette in front of most homes as a mark of respect and with a hope of protecting one’s property and may add to the assets. 🙂 He is omnipresent!

On reaching the temple through the narrow lane, we don’t climb the steps of the temple.
Oh… that can wait till tomorrow, the main day dedicated to Tou Tei, Feast of the God festival. Rather we go into an auditorium situated right opposite it. A huge hall full of seats with a stage towards the far end. It appears as if all seats are already taken. After all, it’s a free event. However our host waves her magic wand and lo and behold three of the finest seats fall vacant. I don’t know if it was because of the respect the Macanese had for us Indians or the sheer woman power of our host. 🙂

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival
Curtain opens for the extravaganza

We are just in time. The curtains rise and after some introductory remarks the grand opera begins. The Opera is performed by a very well-known and respected troupe from mainland China.

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival
Princess Lanying

The story is from Chinese legends and the characters are portrayed by actors in interesting makeup, dressed in their silk fineries. Nearest equivalent I can think of in India is the 10 nights of Ram-Leela musical-drama or the Kathakali in Kerala. Like in most opera, it is over dramatized with songs and exaggerated actions and that’s what makes it most beautiful. The story goes as ….

 The Sword of Loyalty

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival
Ng Hon, the able commander

Wong Mong killed the Han emperor and usurps the throne. He is very happy with the Commander Ng Hon, so he married his daughter, the princess Lanying to Ng Hon.
One day, a young man from the family of the previous Han emperor, Liu Xiu, wants to regain the throne. He assembles a small army and goes to fight with Wong Mong. Commander Ng Hon seizes Liu Xiu and wants to take him to the emperor.

Just then, Ng’s mother reveals to her son that Wong Mong is in fact his father’s murderer. She brings out the Sword of Loyalty, belonging to the dead father and asks Ng Hon to take the sword and kill Wong Mong. She tells Ng Hon to also kill the princess, lest his love for her should stop him from avenging the murder of his father.

cantonese opera macau tou tei festival
Wong Mong, the wicked ruler

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival

When he returns to the palace, he sees his wife, the princess, is praying to God. She asks God to bless her husband. Ng Hon is moved by her good intentions and tells her about the murder of his father. The princess is moved and realizes that her father is really an evil man. She supports her husband and encourages him to kill Wong Mong. Ng’s mother comes with a red cloth to hang herself, so that Ng Hon does not have to worry about his mother being held as hostage and before she dies, she again extracts a promise from Ng to kill the emperor. The princess kills herself with the sword so that she can take care of Ng’s mother in the other world.

Ng Hon, then, sets fire to the palace and kills Wong Mong. He later helps Liu Xiu to regain the throne.

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival

The pictures, indeed, tells the story.

A short interview with one of the characters tells us that, there is a phenomenal amount of hard work put in before the show can be performed in front of the audience. It involves flexibility, strength and the stamina to be able to carry the heavy dress and at the same time sing, dance and perform martial arts.

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival

Chinese opera macau tou tei festival

Many of the actors start as young as nine. This form of Opera has been in vogue for more than 1000 years now, gradually evolving from a simple drama to the current form that includes elaborate make-up, music, singing, dance and drama. In the olden days the female part was often performed by a male dressed up as a woman! Much like in India. (Something more on the troupe and so on).

This is clearly the icing on cake as far as our first day at Macau is concerned. We leave much contented to our Hotel to find a surprise bottle of champagne and several chocolates waiting for us! That’s a different story altogether.

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23 thoughts on “Cantonese Opera in Macau

  1. Who knew there was more in Maccau than casinos. The art form looks quite interesting and one I look forward to checking out the next time I am in that part of the world. If only we could all have a surprise bottle of bubbly waiting for us upon our return. 🙂

  2. Absolutely fabulous pictures. I am sure it would have been a great show. When we visited Macau, we watch the show “House of Dancing Waters” and it was amazing.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Glad to hear that you made it to the performance just on time! These photos are incredible. The costumes are so intricate and the makeup is fantastic. I have yet to make it to Macau but will keep this in mind for when I do.

  4. Wow… I was mesmerized by the description and the accompanying pictures… Awesome experience indeed… Never been to a live opera yet.. nor theater… Hope to visit soon.. awed and inspired…

  5. wow having actors as young as 9. that’s crazy. the opera seems super intricate and so do the costumes! i’m sure this was an amazing experience.

  6. I had no idea this opera was in Macau. I wish I had known when I was visiting Macau because it looks and sounds amazing. I love that your host was able to score three of the finest seats!!! I love the bold makeup and especially the costumes.

  7. Wow, look at those costumes and make ups! I’m always fascinated with Chinese historical and traditional outfits. I must see a Cantonese Opera in the future as well and know more about their culture. Thank you for sharing.

  8. The Chinese opera looks fascinating. The colourful dresses and the theme based on Chinese legends evokes an aura of romanticism tinged with mystique. For some reason, I do see a parallel here with our own Kathakali. Maybe the comparison is a little far flung, but I somehow linked this with the Kerala dance style.

  9. Wow! This looks like quite the production! The costumes and make up look so well done! Looks like an amazing experience. It looks like a better reason to go Macau than gambling!

  10. Gorgeous photos Nisha! Looks like a very interesting performance.

    Had one of those egg tarts when my colleague brought some from Macao. They were incredibly good!

  11. When I visited Macau, I missed the Cantonese Opera, I’ll definitely visit next time I go. You took some fantastic images, your people photography is excellent.

  12. Wow this makes me really want to check out Macau. This seems like such an amazing show and experience. The images you took are breathtaking, I love the costume and makeup as well.

  13. I have to confess, I’ve tried opera a few times, even going to the Verona Opera but I had to admit after that that it isn’t for me. I love the pomp, the dramatic sets and also these amazing costumes, but I don’t think I am ever going to be a fan

  14. I have seen other shows in Macao and they are excellent but never seen this performance. I would love to see an cantonese opera and see what the fuss is about. Loved reading this post and the photos are fantastic.

  15. Macao is such a fascinting destination! It great to see that they have this kind of cultural life happening. Makes me want to visit the place even more. These photos are so beautiful with all the colors and extravagant looks of the actors. Great read!

  16. This is a really interesting post. Your pictures are spectacular, and I always find these productions difficult to follow, so I appreciate your narrative. What a regal profession for these actors.

  17. Those costumes are absolutely breathtaking. I will have to put this on my list of things to do when I finally get to China!

  18. Looks like a great performance. I was just in China like 2 weeks ago. If I had known that a Cantonese opera was so cool, I would have gone out of my way to experience it.

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