The Art of Chinese Teochew Opera

Pull back the curtain on the enigmatic world of Teochew opera in this unique session by Xperience Singapore, which takes guests behind the scenes to find out how one of Singapore’s last remaining troupes prepare for an opera performance. By Pamela Chow

A behind-the-scenes experience of this fast-disappearing performance art
A behind-the-scenes experience of this fast-disappearing performance art

Teochew opera is a fast disappearing trade that few understand and even fewer practise. The art form survives today through second- and third-generation performers, and usually emerges during key religious events such as the Hungry Ghost Festival, one of Singapore’s last vestiges of tradition.

The Art of Chinese Teochew Opera immerses participants in all aspects of the opera troupes’ backstage world, from their symbolic makeup to thousand-dollar hand-woven costumes.

A participant getting up-close and personal with the art form

Our session was held comfortably indoors in a clan association, where we met some of Singapore’s last opera performers – a local family, led by matriarch Tina Quek.

As the performers worked on their intricate makeup, university researcher Caroline Chia – who was our host for the session – narrated the heritage of Chinese opera and explained the significance of each performer’s dress and appearance.

The highlight of the experience was donning the elaborately embroidered costumes and headdresses, with the expert help of Quek and her daughter. Wearing the heavy and regal robes gave me great perspective and respect for the performers, who typically perform in the humid heat.

The session ended with a sample skit by the troupe that brought to life the costumes and choreography of traditional opera.

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A rare and immersive dive into a truly ‘hidden’ side of Singapore, this culturally rich experience is best suited for corporate groups and delegates that have a keen interest in traditional Chinese art forms and culture, as well as incentive groups hoping for an exclusive experience while visiting the Lion City.

The writer (middle) in traditional performance garb

More adventurous delegates would enjoy dressing up in the regal costumes and posing with the performers as well.

Although opera is normally performed outdoors, this session was conducted comfortably in an air-conditioned room. Chia, as well as the Xperience Travel guide, were highly knowledgeable about the art and the performers, and urged participants to step forward for a closer look, interact with the props and ask any burning questions they had.

Photography is also encouraged, and while quiet and serious, the performers are not camera shy and were happy to engage in conversation about their work.

Transport is provided from the central pick-up point to the clan association, during which the Xperience Travel guide provided a brief background of opera in Singapore.

Tel: (65) 6513 4337

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