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Honorary Fellow

YAU Sing-po BBS MH

2016 Honorary Fellow

YAU Sing-po BBS MH


Born in Guangzhou in 1934, Mr Yau Sing-po is one of the most highly respected and critically acclaimed Cantonese opera performing artists in modern times. His father Mr Yau King-hung was a renowned Cantonese opera performer of the dan (female) role-type. The Yau family, whose place of origin is Shunde, moved to northern Guangdong during the Sino-Japanese War, and it was during that time that Mr Yau discovered his passion for acting. He soon made his debut on the Cantonese opera stage at the young age of nine, and he had the opportunities to perform with veteran artists early in his budding career, including Sheung Ngor-ying, Kwan Tak-hing, Tsz Hau-hoi and Sheh Tzai-ying. Mr Yau studied both the dan and the sheng (male) roles under Chan Siu-hap. Before the 1960s, Mr Yau specialised in the wenwusheng (civil and military male), and toured around South East Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. He has also given performances in the United States with the noted dan performer Kwan Ying-lin.

In the 1960s and the 1970s, Mr Yau joined numerous professional troupes such as Aroma, Sunma, Bik Wan Tin, Fung Kau Wong, Tai Hung To, Mun Tong Hung, Sun Fung Wong, Sun Lung Fung, Chung San Sing and Tai Lung Fung. He worked with many esteemed veteran artists, including Leung Sing-po, Sun Ma Sze-tsang, Tang Bik-wan, Mak Bing-wing and Fung Wong-nui. In the 1960s, at the suggestion of Leung Sing-po, the “King of the Chou” (clown), Mr Yau switched his focus to studying the clown role. He also widened his repertoire to include the role-types of the senior male, the military male and the painted face. Mr Yau’s full comprehension of all major Cantonese opera roles made him stand out as a uniquely versatile performing artist embodying the best of all schools.

Mr Yau’s training was not limited to Cantonese opera. He was coached by celebrated Peking opera artist Li Wanchun, a legendary northern school Money King performer. Mr Yau also continually refined his art in performing the male warrior role by studying acrobatic movement and skills under Liu Xun, a “close combat military male” Peking opera actor. Mr Yau’s art in performing the warrior is profound and expansive at once.

In addition to preserving the tradition of Cantonese opera, Mr Yau also pushed for breakthroughs. In his 30s, Mr Yau co-founded the Group of Hong Kong Experimental Cantonese Opera in 1971 with his peers, including Yuen Siu-fai and Li Chi-kei, aiming to explore new directions in Cantonese opera. The group actively wrote new stories and adapted classical plays for actors to experiment with, thus contributing to revitalising the Cantonese opera industry. It also encouraged actors to participate in the production process, and Mr Yau took the opportunity to try directing. Since then, Mr Yau has become interested in the creative process and production management, and has been expanding his horizons beyond acting. In 1997, Mr Yau was commissioned by the then Provisional Regional Council to produce Li Bai: The Immortal Poet. In 1999, he organised Cantonese Opera – An All-Star Night for the Hong Kong Arts Festival. In 2000, he adapted Shakespeare’s King Lear into a Cantonese opera production King Liguang, which was subsequently re-run for several times.

Mr Yau has made significant contribution to the development and advancement of various role-types in Cantonese opera. In the 1980s, Mr Yau had a long standing partnership with the Chor Fung Ming Cantonese Opera Troupe where he mainly performed the clown and the male warrior roles. During his affiliation with the Lai Kwan Cantonese Opera Troupe, he charmed his audience with his talents in mastering multiple roles. For instance, Mr Yau performed different roles such as the male warrior, the old female and the clown in different programmes for the troupe’s second season. Although romantic love story of the scholar and the beauty, played by the young male and female roles was the mainstream at that time, Mr Yau dared to go against the trend and found his niche in other role-types. In the rendition of Farewell My Concubine specially tailored for Mr Yau, he played the role of the painted face. Despite the rarity of plays for the painted face at that time, the performance won great popularity, proving that plays led by the red male warrior roles in Cantonese opera other than the young male and female could be just as appealing and captivating. Mr Yau’s bold vision and tireless efforts have undoubtedly extended the artistic frontier of Cantonese opera.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr Yau’s skills in performing the clown and the male warrior roles were honed to a sharp edge and he was regarded by many as an exemplar. In Prime Minister of Six States, which was staged at the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in 1989 and the Cantonese Opera – An All-Star Night in 1999, Mr Yau played Kung-suen Hin to great acclaim, and since then he has often been compared to Lan Chi-pat, a consummate actor who was widely known as “Master of the Male Warrior Roles”. Mr Yau’s portrayal of Cao Cao in other productions also marked a zenith of his career.

As a prolific and dedicated performer, Mr Yau has been actively engaged in major public Cantonese opera events since the 1990s in addition to the countless performances he staged with troupes such as Hing Fung Ming, Ming Chee Sing, Ho Siu Nin, Seung Hei and Kim Sun Sing. In 1997, Mr Yau performed in Seven Filial Kins which was presented by The Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong as a celebration of the establishment of the Hong Kong SAR. In 1999, Mr Yau was invited by the association again to participate in its Hong Kong International Cantonese Opera Festival Showcase. In 2010, Mr Yau starred in The Imperial Emperor of Heaven Holding Court and Towering Legends of the Three Kingdoms at the Hong Kong Cantonese Opera Treasures event during World Exposition 2010 Shanghai China. In 2013, Art of Cantonese Opera launched a Yau Sing-po Series to celebrate its 5th anniversary, during which Mr Yau staged Madame She and Corruption Reported to the Emperor. Besides, Mr Yau was a frequent performer for the Leisure and Cultural Service Department’s annual Chinese Opera Festival from 2011 to 2016. He has also been repeatedly invited to participate in the Hong Kong Arts Festival since 1993, and their latest collaboration was in 2016 – Mr Yau, at the age of 82, was commissioned to put on stage his 20-year signature piece Li Bai: The Immortal Poet, telling the glorious yet elegiac story of lyrical genius Li Bai.

Mr Yau’s total dedication to Cantonese opera and his meritorious achievement are highly recognised. In 1992, he was awarded the Best Stage Performer Award by the Hong Kong Artists’ Guild for his distinguished accomplishment. In 2009, Mr Yau received the Medal of Honour from the Hong Kong SAR Government in recognition of his notable contribution to the development of Cantonese opera.