Cai Luong (reformed opera) is more popular in the south of the country, and is the most modern of the three forms of Vietnamese opera. Similar to European comic opera, it is lighter and more romantic than tuong and cheo.
In the early 20th century, a form of music known as tai tu, a mix of traditional folk songs, tuong and Hue ceremonial music, became popular in the southern Mekong Delta region. The subsequent influence of French theatre turned it into a more dramatic art form, and it became what we now know as cai luong.
During the 1920s, numerous cai luong troupes were established in the Mekong Delta region. The initially performed stories based on Chinese/Vietnamese literature, but eventually began to adapt stories from writers such as Moliere and Shakespeare, as well as incorporating western-style stages and seating. Later, French dancing and Hong Kong martial arts were added to attract larger audiences. Cai luong quickly became popular throughout Vietnam but its heartland remained in the south, and in the 1950s and 60s it flourished, with several schools and theatres being established in Saigon.
Cai luong songs are based on a stock of around twenty traditional tunes, played at varying pace to reflect the emotion of the characters. The most famous melody is vong co (â€œnostalgia for the pastâ€) and this is invariably the most popular with audiences. The music is usually performed on guitars and danakim (a traditional Vietnamese one-stringed instrument), though more modern electronic instrumentation is often used.
Performances are characterised by lavish stage sets and costumes, combining with the softer, sweeter accents of the southern performers to create a romantic atmosphere beloved by southern audiences. In recent years, contemporary themes and hit songs have been added to ensure that cai luong remains the countryâ€™s most popular form of traditional music.
Cai Luong originated from Southern Vietnam, but over the centuries its popularity has spread to the North. The best place to see it in Hanoi is theÂ Cai Luong Theaterin the middle of Old Quater, which offers regular weekly performances but will arrange extra dates by request.
Its subjects include dramas ancient and modern as well as others that have been adapted from foreign novels; some are even based on Shakespeareâ€™s works.
Performances normally begin with a village drum dance featuring Teu – also the traditional hero of water puppet dramas. Tickets cost VND40,000 and are sold at the Theater on Saturdays for the following weekâ€™s perfomance, or alternatively you can order them by calling 04-9341370.
Cai Luong Theatre
72 Hang Bac St., Hanoi
In Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City
Well-known Saigon landmark before 1975, Hung Dao Theatre is now the only remaining theatre in Saigon specializing in Cai Luong. Formerly the most popular form of traditional drama in the south of Vietnam, there were once more than 10 otherÂ cai luong theatres in the city but they have all closed in recent years because of falling audiences. Hung Dao Theatre alone keep cai luong alive, with performance from 8pm on Saturday and Sunday evenings. The theatre perform plays that bring a breath of modern life to the form as well as famous classical pieces. The theatre will also stage short programs (about 45 minutes each) on request for groups of tourist. Tickets cost VND20,000-VND80,000. (see cheo)
Hung Dao Theatre
136 Hung Dao St., HCMC