Digesting reform: opera and cultural identity in Ho Chi Minh City
Writing as a critic for a Ho Chi Minh City newspaper, this Cai luong fan avidly followed developments in the Vietnamese musical theatre scene throughout the post-war era. However, by the mid-1990s when I spoke with him, his passion for the local opera form had considerably dimmed. When the economic reforms began in the mid-1980s, he said, ‘Cai luong met its nemesis with a flood of foreign films, videos and music coming through the open door’. He described the genre’s plight as ‘gasping for breath’, in its struggle to compete for audiences’ attention with these ‘cheap and exciting’ new imports. Pushed to the wall, he lamented, ‘Cai luong productions have increasingly resorted to cheap stunts, weird, inappropriate borrowings and spectacular fighting scenes.’ Audience numbers were dwindling due to the genre’s slide into the ‘crude and melodramatic’, not to mention the relatively high price of tickets compared with other forms of entertainment.