Music, Theatre, Dance
Music in Vietnam has been blessed with a fusion of foreign – Chinese, Indianized Champa, European – and ethnic minority and Kinh majority styles. Traditionally the sung stories perpetuated myths, honored ancestors with the retelling of epic tales, and taught moral obligations.
Formal Imperial court music, Nha Nhac was introduced by the Chinese but borrowed heavily from Vietnamese folk tunes in later years. Periodically music festivals (notably in Hue) will perform this style.
Quan Ho, best known in the Red River Delta, is a form of improvised ‘call and response’ singing and often a form of courtship. Some tour companies can organize trips to the famous ‘singing villages’ of Bac Ninh (near Hanoi) for the festival on the 12th to the 14th of the first lunar month, and music groups are sometimes hosted at various venues on special occasions.
Thuong originated in China and was introduced to Vietnam over 700 years ago. The story goes that a prisoner of war had a gift of musical skills which he taught to the court. With elaborate costumes and tales of heroics the genre caught on and became popular with the royal court and the common people.
Cai Luong began in the 1920s and was known as ‘renovated theatre’. It borrowed from popular genres and presented the modified plays of Moliere and Shakespeare and used elements from the Folies Bergeres and Hong Kong martial artists long before Jackie Chan made it popular. Their theatre has been renovated recently and plays are put on periodically.
Golden Bell Theatre
72 Hang Bac
Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
T: (04) 3825 7823
Ca Tru was made famous by the tale of the singer A Dao who, in the 15th century, charmed the enemy troops with her singing, which allowed the Vietnamese army to sneak up and slaughter them. This type of entertainment is often compared to the geishas of Japan. The singer, lute player and drummer entertained the rich, powerful, educated class in tea houses.
Ca Tru Singing House
28 Hang Buom
Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
performances every Saturday at 8pm
Bich Cau Dao Quan Temple
14 Cat Linh
Ba Dinh, Hanoi
T: (04) 3918 3016
Cheo was a popular theatre performed at festivals in villages from the 12th century. The sung storytelling retells the life of the common people with sometimes biting satire when depicting those in power. Today the Cheo troupes have been used to teach the benefits of natural resource management and promote anti-drug campaigns.
15 Nguyen Dinh Chieu
Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
T: (04) 3825 4205
Hat Chau Van is trance or spiritual singing which extols the merits of heroes or invokes the spirits. Temple festivals occur regularly.
Hat Xam singing by blind artists can be traced to the 13th century. Sometimes groups of itinerant singers wander the streets with their microphones and deep toned stringed instruments.
Minh’s Jazz Club
Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
T: (04) 3828 7890
Minh sometimes performs in the Opera House. There is a yearly jazz festival sponsored by the EU.
Modern Music borrows heavily from MTV and is influenced greatly by the west. Nhac Que Huong (homeland music) is popular with overseas Vietnamese singers who have also become famous in Vietnam but homegrown talents are also well respected, notably My Linh. Professionally trained she has recently released an album Chat Voi Mozart that combines classical melodies in a pop/rap/hip hop style – in Vietnamese. Eclectic mixes of acoustic and electronically modified traditional music is appearing. And don’t miss a show by Elvis Phuong when he comes to town.
Red Music or revolutionary music has (not surprisingly) a long history in Vietnam. On soldiers day (December 22), old cadres meet to drink a few, sing the old marching songs and talk about past exploits. The later the night, the lower the beer in the keg, the better the singing.
Symphony music came with the French but it wasn’t until 1959 that the National Symphony was officially formed. They perform approximately 60 concerts a year, usually at the Opera House.
226 Cau Giay
Cau Giay, Hanoi
T: (04) 3833 1448
F: (04) 3833 4968
‘Harmony in Hanoi’ is a film (2004) of the symphony.
Yellow Music has been dubbed ‘Misery Pop’ by one wag. Imagine ‘the blues’ with a conical hat.
The quintessentially Vietnamese art of water puppetry was developed in the ponds of the Red River Delta and for over a thousand years they have thrilled audiences with their tales of ‘daring do’ by heroes of old, or the humorous episodes of daily life. Visit the Museum of Ethnology on Nguyen Van Huyen St. T. 04 3756 2193 www.vme.org.vn for weekly shows, or daily performances at the Thang Long Water Puppets Theatre, 57 Dinh Tien Hoang, T. 04 3824 9494 www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org or 361 Truong Chinh, Dong Da at 8pm every Saturday
Ballet and Opera have a long history too. Brought by the French they later grew when Russian friendship developed and scholarships to the Bolshoi and Leningrad Theatre schools were offered. Trung Kien (past Minister of Culture) was one of the most famous opera singers, and Artist Emeritus Nguyen Cong Nhac studied with Baryshnikov. The story goes that he could do more entre chats than Mikhail. The current director of Nha Hat Nha Vu Kich, the ballet/opera company is Pham Anh Phuong. He studied at the prestigious Kirov (Leningrad) School and later was the first dancer to perform with an Australian Company.
Vietnam Opera Ballet Theatre
Ngo 11, Nui Truc
Ba Dinh, Hanoi
T: (04) 3846 1292
F: (04) 3846 3528
The Gioi Publishers, 1999.