Cantonese Opera anyone?

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Just before we left for Macau for the International Series of Mahjong competition, I received a telephone call from ATV. They wanted me to perform in the National Day Cultural Night production 「香港同胞慶祝中華人民共和國成立五十九週年文藝晚會」, which was cool, but what was even cooler was that they wanted me to perform Cantonese Opera!

My part in the performance was only 30 seconds long but it was special. Ten days before the show, I had the music and lyrics. Then on Friday, five days before the show, I had my first 2-hour lesson in Cantonese Opera followed by another lesson on Sunday morning. That was it. The rest was up to me.

I knew it was going to be hard because we would be performing live, and because the show would be broadcast through much of China, so I worked hard to memorise the song and spent one to two hours every day rehearsing the routine on our balcony.

On Wednesday afternoon before the performance, we had rehearsals, my first time to work with renown masters of Cantonese Opera 梁漢威先生 and 尹飛燕小姐. Rehearsals went fine, and then there was more fun to be had. I was to be dressed in full Cantonese Opera robe with full makeup. Yippee!

My nerves were steady for most of the day, but by the time I reached the stage, my heart was racing a lot faster than I would have liked. Near the end of the first sentence of the song, with adrenaline racing through my body and all of my senses hightened much more than necessary, in my mind, I momentarily forgot a character in the lyrics. I'm not exactly sure what happened next but I heard the last character of the sentence come out of my mouth and held on to it. Then I smiled, because I knew I was going to be ok.

It was not as good a performance as I had hoped for but for someone who had just had 4 hours training in something as complex as Cantonese Opera, it wasn't too bad.

More importantly though, it was a personal victory. Many years ago, I developed a physiological form of depression resulting from severe and prolonged physical exhaustion, possibly a form of Burnout Syndrome. During that time, whenever I performed publicly, my nervousness would morph into terror, terror that was clearly visible on my face. Those episodes of terror left a mark on me. Since that time whenever preparing for a new performance, I have had to face the memory of those terrors and overcome them. It has only been during the last one or two years that those terrors have gradually faded away, and I have been able to enjoy performing again.

Without knowing it, several of my friends have been instrumental in helping me to overcome the fear of reliving that terror while performing by helping me to enjoy performing, good friends including Fred, Walter and Peisha.

And now, for your entertainment, here is the clip from that night's performance. I make my appearance just after 5:23 minutes into the clip. Try not to laugh too much ;-)

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25 Responses to “Cantonese Opera anyone?”
  1. rayman says:

    Hey Greg, that was awesome, some more beard would be even more realistic, but then we would not have recognized you.

  2. 河國榮 says:

    Rayman, thank you for the complement. You're right about the beard. They intentionally left out the beard and thinned the makeup so that people would still recognise that I'm a 鬼佬. They did however raise my eyebrows which I though was really cool. I'll put up a few photographs later that'll show this.

  3. John says:

    It seemed Tung Chee-Wah was impressed!

    Well done!

  4. Mark says:

    見到董建華, 想起他曾經罵/批評李柱銘"唱衰香港", 不欣賞董建華, 更不欣賞這類"唱好"show, 非常中國, 非常老套!

    Greg 唱得不錯, 我給80分.

  5. jenny says:

    That was a time for Chinese. Luckily you could joined the wonderful moment. How nice that you share it with us.

  6. 河國榮 says:

    that's exactly how I saw it. I felt very privileged indeed; privileged and happy that the organisers would think so well of me as to ask me to participate in this very important event :-)

  7. SK says:

    that was awesome! good job!!!!! :)

  8. Pamela Yu says:

    What a wonderful job you did ( Even though it was only a few minutes)

    Can you make it possible for people in the States to watch your other performances?

    Thank you.
    Pamela.

  9. yinyin says:

    hahahaha, its great~~~
    you really look like those cantonese opera ppl, with the make up, clothing and even the hand movement...its kool, it must be an remarkable experience. Hehe did they took ages to put the make up on?

  10. Glen says:

    I say your performance was good, though your singing was toned down. Generally I think Cantonese opera is as bad as Arabic music. But hey that was good performance by you Mr Rivers.

  11. 河國榮 says:

    makeup took around 45 minutes. it was the first time in my professional life that I've had such a thick layer of makeup on. cool experience.

  12. 河國榮 says:

    Glen, you're spot on. after getting a lung infection at Macau, then working hard on the part for several days while trying to fight the infection, I was very tired, hence the non-optimal voice.

    btw, the song is still playing in my head...

  13. Edward Ng says:

    你所唱是家喻戶曉的粵劇"鳳閣恩仇未了情",由粵劇名伶:麥炳榮、鳳凰女、梁醒波、黃千歲、陳好逑、..主演。
    自從我看了 Dreamwork 公司的電影 "小鸚鵡Paulie(1998)" 發覺結尾橋段與"鳳閣恩仇未了情" 橋段相似都是以歌聲令彼此回復記憶,及後多看日本片如超人、..又發覺那些怪獸橋段亦與粵語片時代相似,唯一是黑白與彩色之分別!日本片當然因彩色令香港人忘記了粵語片特技!
    事實反映你個人性格並不簡單,入鄉隨俗會被大部份人視為老套,而您卻絕不像現時當扎藝人一般庸姿俗粉,魚目混珠,不學無術,我相信你絕對有肥肥那股熱誠/真心敬業樂業,能成為深入民心大眾偶像!

  14. passerby says:

    Gosh. You in the video remind me of Marilyn Manson, or similar rock singers with make-up and stuffs.

  15. sapphire says:

    Haha...what can I say? You really rock!!!

  16. Flora says:

    Hey mate, u did well!! I didn't notice that u have missed any word!

  17. Julie says:

    Hey Greg, your performance was short but sweet, the pronunciation was good, and you mastered the change of tone really well!

  18. Hon Chiu says:

    There are 2 words that are not clear. I can tell the hard work behind all these and your pronunciation of words has been so serious that would shame many native Cantonese speakers. Heard that it is essential for performance otherwise the audience cannot hear what you sing or speak.

  19. Ricky says:

    Hi Greg. I really enjoy cantonese opera so it was great to see you taking part. I don't know if you remember me, I was married to carmen but now divorced. My cantonese has improved now thanks to my new girl friend. Do you have any dramas coming up for ATV?

  20. Roger says:

    Hi Greg, I must say it might be short but sure nothing to laugh about, you sure did a great performance for someone whos not Chinese hehe :)

    Thanks for the clip, I enjoyed your performance.

  21. 普通人 says:

    Bravo!! It's a big breakthrough for you. It's not only about the terror, but also this performance has added a new dimension to your career. The invitation by ATV has shown that you've been recognised by Hong Kong, which is important for a migrant.

  22. Chan Ying says:

    I think your performance with the rest was really impressive as Donald Tsang and Tung Kin Wah were in audience. You sure do Hong Kong proud!

  23. aj says:

    wow! you are really talented to be able to sing something as difficult as Cantonese opera!

  24. KJL:KJ` says:

    NIce performance job well done haha

  25. Rita says:

    Hi Greg, I stumbled across your clip on youtube, you did really well, at least I understood ever single cantonese word that you sang without having to try really hard to listen, I never understood what they sing in cantonese opera, even though I am a honkie, I guess I have lived in aussie far too long & my chinese level is quite bad now.

    Btw, check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuzCHD53cGs ... towards the end of the clip, they showed chinese opera in english especially for foreigners, sounds weird but interesting at the same time, maybe you can do that one day and promote "chinese" opera ... haha ...

    Cheers!