Bangkok opera with Chinese characters
The Sai Bo Hong Chinese opera troupe proves a hard act to follow in Thailand
A performance by Thailand's Sai Bo Hong Chinese troupe at a street festival in Bangkok.
Photo: AFP / Mladen Antonov
These are difficult days for street opera despite its mythical appeal.
In the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, an ancient world of swords, warriors, and folklore roars to life on the darkened street.
On stage, the Sai Bo Hong Chinese opera troupe acts out dramatic tales centered around themes of loyalty, honesty, and family to the sound of crashing cymbals and flutes.
For centuries, troupes like this have performed throughout Thailand, where 14% of the population is ethnic Chinese.
But the number of shows has dwindled in the era of smartphones, cinemas and Netflix, a vanishing art in a city of high-rises and mega-malls.
“Chinese opera in Thailand has seen a sharp drop in terms of both audience attendance and performances,” said one of the costume designers.
When the Thai troupe plays upcountry mostly elderly ethnic Chinese come to see them while in Bangkok it’s a mix of tourists and local residents.
Sai Bo Hong has been around for decades and like other troupes – only about 20 are left in Thailand – normally plays for-hire gigs.
How long they will survive is a script no one wants to write.