Tracing Origins – The Life and Times of Cantonese Opera’s Laosheng 

Organised by: Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay
Performed by: Lead Actor: Christopher Choo Cast: Philip Chan, May Choong Accompaniment: Tung On Opera Orchestra
  • Date:
    26, 27 Apr 2024
  • Time:
  • Duration:
    2hrs, with 20mins intermission.
  • Venue:
    Esplanade Theatre Studio
    Esplanade Theatre StudioEsplanade Theatre Studio
  • Language:
    Performed in Cantonese, with English and Chinese surtitles. 
  • Admission:
    Limited concessions available at $30.


In a fit of fury, a mistress is murdered

Under the moon and stars, a man pursues a rare talent

To show his loyalty, a general sacrifices himself

These scenes tell the story of the laosheng's artistry

Song Jiang Kills Yan Xijiao is startling and suspenseful; Xiao He Pursues Han Xin is full of earnest vigour; and General Yang's Sacrifice is tragic in its desolation. These three opera excerpts of different plots are all showcases for the laosheng (elderly male role). Directed by Christopher Choo, a veteran of Singapore's Chinese opera scene, Tracing Origins is an opportunity to explore and appreciate the particular artistry of this character type.

Christopher is the one and only disciple of legendary Cantonese opera icon, Leng Chi Pak. Through his performance, this laosheng showcase exemplifies the role while also highlighting other performers, namely local wenwusheng (scholar/warrior male role) Philip Chan and new-generation huadan (female role) May Choong.

Following the basic setting of a traditional Chinese opera performance, this showcase is staged with only one table and two chairs. Backdropped by calligraphy and paintings and staged in an intimate venue, Tracing Origins honours both the art of Cantonese opera and the memory of a beloved master.

There will be live music accompaniment by Tung On Opera Orchestra.

Excerpt synopsis

Song Jiang Kills Yan Xijiao is based on a plot point in Water Margin, in which Song Jiang kills Yan Xijiao. This excerpt is a signature showcase for a laosheng and a feisty huadan in Cantonese opera. Choo takes the stage as the middle-aged Song Jiang sporting a black beard. Before he kills Yan Xijiao, his agitated emotions are expressed through his technique of wielding the artificial beard, and the results are transfixing. As the female lead, Choong portrays a subversive and fiery character and conveys her intense love-hate relationship with Song Jiang with refreshing intensity. This excerpt borrows Peking opera's Siping tune and is a great test of the performers' skills.

Xiao He Pursues Han Xin, also known as Xiao He Pursues Han Xin by Moonlight, is a showcase for Cantonese opera's laosheng and wenwusheng, with many wonderful moments of singing. Choo plays Xiao He and Chan plays Han Xin. Together, they share a scene where they spur on their horses to swifter speeds. Choo has a key moment where he falls off his horse, showcasing his striking "shoe-flinging" technique.

Known as one of the "Four Kings of Cantonese Opera", Leng Chi Pak was famous for his performance in General Yang's Sacrifice. This excerpt follows the southern style of Cantonese opera, including signature techniques such as tiao da jia1, shui bo lang2, and using the tune of yan er luo3 to set tragic and desolate mood. Choo uses a full-throated and melodious singing style modelled after his master. He sings of Yang Jiye's despair as he is trapped in Two Wolves Mountain; surrounded by enemies, he ultimately chooses to kill himself by smashing his head against a monument.

1tiao da jia: sets of stylised movements in the southern style of Cantonese opera that are used to depict different scenarios

2shui bo lang: a series of footwork that conveys intense emotions

3yan er luo: a specific tune usually accompanied by the suona as the lead musical instrument

Tracing Origins – The Life and Times of Cantonese Opera’s Laosheng