From Nghe area folk songs to Nghe An opera

Each region in Vietnam has its own typical folk songs. The land of Hong Lam in Central Vietnam with its mountains and rivers, picturesque beauty, plain, industrious and brave inhabitants has generated a folk culture rich in original national indentity.

Nghe area folk songs shine like precious pearls. Ordinary people, well-reputed masters of culture such as Nguyen Du, Nguyen Cong Tru and Phan Boi Chau, all had a great passion for such melodies as "vi dam", "vi do dua" and "vi phuong vai". On his deathbed, Uncle Ho had an earnest yearning, simple but profound, to listen to a song of "vi dam 11 that had impressed his soul since childhood.

A research team including authors, theatre historians, musicians and choreographers was formed and the Nghe Tinh Provincial Folk Song Troupe came into being to launch an opera programme. The former Nghe Tinh Provincial Authority for Culture and Information co-ordinated with the Vietnam Drama Institute to conduct joint studies in a serious manner. After more than two decades and many meetings, in 1991, the Provincial Authority for Culture and Information and the Institute published a 300-page volume entitled "From Folk Songs to Operas" with nearly 50 essays by drama researchers, scholars, musicians and eminent artists. The book is a profound and comprehensive summing-up of Nghe An Opera, carving its niche in the national drama as a whole. This is no novelty.Turning folk songs into operas is the trail that the traditional operetta had already blazed for more than ten centuries.

The musician Ho Huu Thoi Director of Nghe An Provincial Authority for Culture and Information, has paid great attention to developing Nghe An Opera. He is a researcher and author of quite a few successful operas. He holds the view that to convert folk songs into operas, first of all, the musical problems should be settled properly, to achieve rhythm, harmony and melody typical of the Nghe area, inheriting what the classical drama, the traditional operetta and the reformed theatre have done.

It is possible to utilize 50% of the original folk songs, 20-25% of the arranged popular songs in the plays, and the rest for new creations. In this way, the new opera will certainly continue developing.

A couple of decades is by no means a long time for the formation and development of a new genre of art, but it testifies to the success of the Nghe An Opera. The Nghe An Folk Song Troupe has experimented by stage-managing dozens of operas on various themes: folk tales and legends, history, national heroes, cultural celebrities - even present-day life. Some of them are found to be grandiose and lyrical, rich in character of both folk songs and epics such as "Mai Thuc Loan", "A Young King's Romance" and "The Round Footprint in the Storm".

Nevertheless, what's most significant for the birth of the Nghe An Opera lies in the development of a new genre from the background of the traditional, ancient culture as a contribution to the enrichment of Vietnamese dramatic art.