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Date Published

Oct 01, 2018





Let yourself imagine you live in the west of Vietnam which has immense rivers with large boats và an open and spacious landscape. Whether you are spending a quiet night in or enjoying a hot summer day, you become aware of a melody coming from far away. Who is it singing? Maybe a farm worker with a clear but sad voice or perhaps an old man with a deep và mournful one too. You impulsively feel yourself becoming filled with sorrow & tears. That is the in-your-head experience about Vietnam’s traditional music – cải lương, which I can bring alive for you as best as I can.

Cải lương (roughly translated means "reformed theater") is a khung of modern folk opera in Vietnam. It blends Southern Vietnamese folk songs, classical music, hát tuồng (a classical theater form based on Chinese opera) with modern spoken drama. That’s all I know about cải lương. I’m not expert enough to speak in depth about cải lương’s origin or key features. I’m still too young and lacking experience about life lớn understand cải lương fully, as many people always say.

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But does that matter?

A cải lương performance (Credit to: Tuoi Tre)

I first heard about cải lương when I was a child thanks to lớn my grandmother và the radio. Khổng lồ me, there is only one emotion to describe it: sadness, more sadness & extreme sadness. It’s strange that such a young mind could have that feeling. I have no idea why nearly all cải lương songs I’ve known tell an unhappy story: a man betrays his girlfriend in the country to lớn chase a luxury life in the city, which makes the girl desperate and decide khổng lồ take holy orders (Lan & Diep song); a young wife cries for her husband, who was a soldier who died in battle & he can only communicate with her in form of a ghost or in her dreams (Vo Dong So – Bach Thu Ha song).

Cải lương artist (Source: Youtube)

Even if you have an extremely beautiful voice and can sing a wide range of music genre, such as blues, dance, country or even folk and classical, but cải lương? I’m afraid you can’t. It’s very difficult to lớn perform a cải lương song, which can cảm ứng an audience’s heart. The singer must be able lớn take very very long breaths to lớn sing a verse non-stop in about 30 seconds or more. If they participate in a “who can hold their breath the longest ?” competition, I’m dead sure they would win. Becoming a cải lương singer is much harder than becoming an opera singer, I think.

The experience I told you about in the beginning is cải lương in the countryside & you can listen to cải lương on stage at Tran Huu Trang cải lương theater (136 Tran Hung Dao Street, Pham ngốc Lao Ward, District 1, HCMC). Maybe you won’t understand the meaning or lyrics of a cải lương song but you will have the chance to lớn enjoy the special artistic atmosphere, the sweet melodies và the singers’ costumes, which are unique, colorful & sometimes seemingly royal. & I hope when you hear cai luong songs you can feel the sadness just as I did.

Here are several cải lương songs you can listen to lớn in order khổng lồ have an introduction to lớn some Vietnamese traditional music: