Opera (Wayang) in
150 years ago, Chinese
immigrants who come from different parts of the world brought with them different
dialects and culture. Street performances or wayangs were a common source of
entertainment for these migrants. Usually a crowd would gather before a temporary
stage which was raised about six feet above the street and made bright by neon
lights. Rough seats were provided for the audience in the open and admission
charges vary from free admission to 25 cents to half a dollar. During the performance,
the audience smoke and chat away at the top of their voices. However, whenever
a climax occurs during the show, they would then sit very still and pay great
attention to the stage.
In Singapore, operas
were mainly performed by Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien actors. There were no
actresses and all female roles were performed by young boys. As early as the
1880s, there were permanent theatres for staging operas. There were as many as
six theatre houses in Singapore.
Perhaps the most prominent
and largest theatre at that time was Lai Chun Yuen which occupied a three-storey
shophouse at 36 Smith Street, a central location in Chinatown. It was the
venue for Cantonese opera performances. Even today, the older generation
still referred to Smith Street as "Theatre Street", Temple street
as "Theatre Back Street" and Trengganu Street as "A side street
of Theatre Street". In the past Eu Tong Sen Street was also known as
However, in the 1930s there was a reduction in the number of performances with
the coming of cinema halls and with the emergence of silent movies in 1927.
Thus, in the 1960s, Street opera or wayang was on the decline.
As Singapore became more
densely populated and urbanized, many villages where Street wayangs were
once held, were turned into HDB new towns or flatted factory areas. Some
professional troupes also disbanded while many cut down the number of performances.
Chinese Opera has retained
its appeal to this very day. The older generation continues to turn to opera
for entertainment while the younger generation has begun to appreciate opera
as an art form. This is evident from the numerous associations such as those
which are set up to promote Chinese Opera in Singapore and also from this newspaper
article that we extracted from The Straits Times newspaper.