By Beh Lih Yi (AFP) – Feb 18, 2012
HONG KONG — Hong Kong's last dedicated Cantonese opera theatre won a new lease of life Saturday after it was saved from closure by a feng shui master who struck a deal with the property owner.
The 1,000-seat Sunbeam Theatre has been synonymous with the operatic heritage of China's southern Cantonese-speaking minority for 40 years since it opened in 1972, and has earned landmark status on Hong Kong's art scene.
The opera house had been due to close down following its final show on Sunday after the theatre operator decided to discontinue the lease, a move seen by fans as another nail in the coffin for the 300-year-old Chinese art.
But in a dramatic turn of events, feng shui master Li Kui-ming, who also runs the Prime Splendor Theatrical Troupe, said he had signed a four-year lease with owner Francis Law at a rent of HK$1 million ($129,000) a month to keep the Sunbeam open.
"This is a breakthrough in the negotiation. We really want to keep this 40-year-old landmark theatre," the troupe's director Yuen Hoi told AFP.
"We will carry out some renovation works at the theatre and we're aiming to re-open Sunbeam in late April," Yuen said, adding that Li and Law met several times before signing the lease.
"The owner is a Cantonese opera fan. He has commercial considerations but he is hoping to keep the theatre too and therefore he wants to pick a tenant who is really serious about preserving and promoting Cantonese opera," said Yuen.
Businessman Law bought the 80,000-square-foot (7,400-square-metre) theatre in 2003, reportedly with plans to replace it with a shopping mall.
The Sunbeam escaped the bulldozers initially, but has been fighting soaring rents ever since and was nearly shut down twice.
The theatre operator had been paying almost HK$700,000 a month since 2009, when the lease was renewed but the rent more than doubled.
There are other all-purpose venues around Hong Kong for opera performances, but none has dedicated itself exclusively to Cantonese opera like the Sunbeam.
The news was lauded by Cantonese opera fans.
"We are so glad. We were planning a farewell ceremony at Sunbeam tomorrow but now we are going to turn it into a celebration party instead," said lawmaker Jennifer Chow, herself an amateur Cantonese opera performer.
Chow, a district councillor who launched a signature campaign to save the theatre, said the government should step up efforts to come up with a long-term solution in view of the Sunbeam's plight.
"The government needs to do something, it needs to build a dedicated theatre for Cantonese opera in order for us to preserve the art," she added.
Cantonese opera -- where actors wear elaborate costumes and make-up, and must be adept at elaborately choreographed martial arts as well as singing -- was recognised as "intangible cultural heritage" by UN cultural agency UNESCO in 2009.
Other than its southern dialect, Cantonese opera differs from mainland operatic traditions in its use of percussion instruments such as gongs and cymbals.
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