Modernising Cantonese opera through contemporary sound production design

DProf thesis

Lin, L. 2020. Modernising Cantonese opera through contemporary sound production design. DProf thesis Middlesex University Health, Social Care and Education
TypeDProf thesis
TitleModernising Cantonese opera through contemporary sound production design
AuthorsLin, L.

Xiqu (Chinese opera) is a very old art form in China that has had a significant influence on the development of world theatre at large. Cantonese opera is one of the Xiqu genres in Southern China. It shares a strong inseparable historical and cultural background with Hong Kong. In 2009, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization classified Cantonese opera as a form of Intangible Cultural Heritage manifesting Cantonese opera’s importance.
For the past four decades, Cantonese opera has faced many challenges in adapting to the contemporary environment in Hong Kong. For example, there was the changing of performance venue from outdoor temporary built bamboo canopies to indoor technically well equipped theatres, and the income shifted from commercially box office dependent to government funding oriented. As a result of this struggle, Cantonese opera is declining in terms of audience numbers and performance quality. Modernisation of the art form can support Cantonese opera to adapt to a contemporary environment and enhance its appeal to younger audiences, thus moving the art form forward.
Having been born and raised in Hong Kong, with over twenty years of experience as a professional sound designer, I was motivated by my love of Cantonese opera and my contemporary experience of its potential decline to undertake research into whether and how Cantonese opera in terms of production and management aspects could benefit from such technological advances.
This research set about investigating other forms of Xiqu, many of which have been registered on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The intention of this particular piece of research was, in line with the HK government’s goal of reviving Cantonese opera, to contribute to stabilizing the quality of Cantonese opera sound performance, as well as making it more palatable to the younger generation, with the vision of bringing this national cultural treasure to the world. It explores the contemporary and historical context of Cantonese opera and its relation to other Xiqu.
The research was undertaken over a 36 month period using a Mixed Method Research approach with performers and other industry stakeholders. In addition, the research were made comparisons between three theatre case studies which identified the obstacles, outcomes and challenges to modernising Cantonese Opera’s sound production management. Key issues revealed included : the sacredness of tradition;; the current operation system, the concerns and agenda of stakeholders, and the government’s funding policy.
The findings identify the need to re evaluate (i) the traditional production system practice, (ii) the industry’s general consensus about modernisation, and (iii) the ineffective funding strategy as these are the main factors holding back any modernisation process.
The research recommends a funding strategy that will contribute to the development of Cantonese opera and emphasises the need for the consensus and collaboration of all the stakeholders to implement a modernised sound management system for the development Cantonese opera in Hong Kong, not only to enhance the art form itself but also its appeal against competition from other art forms with more sophisticated and effective enhancement strategies – film, theatre, ballet, opera which are generally western.
This research is the first of its kind in Hong Kong and as such is a breakthrough for Cantonese opera as well as Xiqu at large. It also opens the doors for more academic research and study on technical aspects of Cantonese Opera and Xiqu.

Sustainable Development Goals9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
Middlesex University ThemeCreativity, Culture & Enterprise
Research GroupWork and Learning Research Centre
Department nameHealth, Social Care and Education
Institution nameMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Print26 Aug 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited26 Aug 2022
Accepted15 Oct 2020
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
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