[Lecture] Spectacular Opera Across Borders: Cantonese Opera Theaters in North America during the 1920s

Dr. Nancy Rao (Rutgers University)

My recent-published study of the performance of Cantonese opera in the Chinatown communities of American urban centers—Vancouver, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Honolulu, Havana—uncovers a complex chapter of music and community. It effects a significant shift from the traditional focus of the North American music history on the transatlantic world to the Pacific world. The re-orienting of the angle of vision to the transnational, and particularly the Pacific, in music studies of North America marks this a project timely to the multivalent society of the 21st century. In this talk, I will discuss how the transnational connection allowed the mobility of capital, performers and performance practices across both obvious and hidden boundaries, steered by business partnerships and amorphous webs of family kinship. In particular, as primary entertainment in the Chinese community, Chinatown theaters in the 1920s were deeply woven into the financial, political, social and familial fabrics of Chinese communities in North America. In addition to daily performances at the theaters, the opera culture enhanced by print culture (playbills, newspaper, lyrics anthology) and listening culture.

This presentation is jointly sponsored by the UBC School of Music, the Hong Kong Studies Initiative, the Centre for Chinese Research, the Museum of Anthropology, and St. John’s College.

Event photos | Webcast (part 1, part 2)