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Two 'Living National Treasures'in Taiwanese Opera History

  • Huang Zhebin and Staff Reporter
  • 2010-10-01
  • 19:35 (GMT+8)
After seven years' quitting from stage, Yang Li-hua returned to stage again with her fascinating performance in 2007, playing three roles in one single opera.(China Times/file)

After seven years' quitting from stage, Yang Li-hua returned to stage again with her fascinating performance in 2007, playing three roles in one single opera.(China Times/file)

Liao Chiung-chih demonstrated a scene in "Frozen Water Peony", a Taiwanese opera written in accordance to Liao's sorrow yet legendary life story.(China Times/file)

Yang Li-hua, a superb Taiwanese opera actress who is referred to as a "living national treasure," and Taiwanese opera doyen Liao Chiung-chih, are renowned as two prominent figures who might be the most influential talents within contemporary Taiwanese opera.

Born into a Taiwanese opera family in Yuanshan in northeastern Taiwan's Yilan County, the original hometown of Taiwanese opera, the 66-year-old Yang began performing at the age of 4 and developed a wide following by playing male roles in television productions.

Also, Yang's grandfather organized an amateur traditional Beiguan music troupe in Yilan and her mother performed male roles in the Yi-chun Yuan troupe. Practically born onstage, at the age of 6 Yang took the lead in a play called An-An Chases Chickens and captured the hearts of her audiences.

Yang, who says she idolized her mother, was for a time sent to attend elementary school. But she had already tasted the joy of the theater and was determined to learn to play Taiwanese opera. Since leaving school, she has been performing opera.

The 1950s and early 60s was a boom time for Taiwanese Opera, when TTV (Taiwan Television Enterprise) began producing and broadcasting opera in 1962.

A Taiwanese series featuring the male lead portrayed by Yang in 1966 was well-received, making her the most celebrated actress of Taiwanese Opera.

Since her debut at the age of 22, she's been in nearly 160 productions on TTV, which have given rise to a new generation of diehard opera fans.

Now, performing after an absence of several years, Yang will lead her Taiwanese opera troupe in a performance for the Republic of China's 100th founding anniversary.

As for the 75-year-old Liao, whose name is almost synonymous with Taiwanese opera and is known for her skill in singing over the sound of crying, has won a number of cultural and arts awards in Taiwan for her outstanding performances and her dedication to passing on the treasure of Taiwanese Opera.

It is said that the sorrow behind Liao's voice of ill-fated women reflects many of the sad events in her own life. The opera diva lost her parents at age two and was sent to a professional Taiwanese opera troupe to learn Taiwanese opera at the age of 12. Two years later, her grandmother, who had taken care of her, passed away and she was left without family.

Liao then worked for a traveling group selling traditional medicine and, during those years, nearly fell into the hands of a prostitution ring. She led a wandering life with traveling opera companies and later brought up four children single-handedly, which was a heavy financial burden.

Liao is now devoting herself to teaching the locally developed genres of drama in an effort to promote Taiwanese art traditions.

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