Cải Lương (reformed opera) or also known as Vietnamese renovated opera is a type of theatre that was developed in the early 20th century. Cai Luong is more popular in the south of the country, and is the most modern of the three forms of Vietnamese opera. Similar to European comic opera, it is lighter and more romantic than Tuong and Cheo.
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In the early 20th century, a form of music known as tai tu, a mix of traditional folk songs, tuong and Hue ceremonial music, became popular in the southern Mekong Delta region. The subsequent influence of French theatre turned it into a more dramatic art form, and it became what we now know as cai luong.
During the 1920s, numerous cai luong troupes were established in the Mekong Delta region. The initially performed stories based on Chinese/Vietnamese literature, but eventually began to adapt stories from writers such as Moliere and Shakespeare, as well as incorporating western-style stages and seating. Later, French dancing and Hong Kong martial arts were added to attract larger audiences. Cai luong quickly became popular throughout Vietnam but its heartland remained in the south, and in the 1950s and 60s it flourished, with several schools and theatres being established in Saigon.
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Cai luong songs are based on a stock of around twenty traditional tunes, played at varying pace to reflect the emotion of the characters. The most famous melody is vong co (“nostalgia for the past”) and this is invariably the most popular with audiences. The music is usually performed on guitars and danakim (a traditional Vietnamese one-stringed instrument), though more modern electronic instrumentation is often used.
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Performances are characterised by lavish stage sets and costumes, combining with the softer, sweeter accents of the southern performers to create a romantic atmosphere beloved by southern audiences. In recent years, contemporary themes and hit songs have been added to ensure that cai luong remains the country’s most popular form of traditional music