Linh Huyen is a versatile artist in the realms of traditional Vietnamese opera (Cải Lương), theatrical , and comedy. She is also a prolific scriptwriter for various stage programs in Vietnam. Linh Huyen stands out not only as an outstanding artist but also as a creator, playing a significant role in preserving and developing Vietnam’s traditional culture. Her multifaceted talent, influence, and contributions to the performing arts have made Linh Huyen an icon in the country’s artistic community.
LINH HUYEN IS NOT ONLY AN OUTSTANDING PERFORMER IN TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE OPERA (CẢI LƯƠNG) BUT ALSO A HIGHLY INFLUENTIAL PLAYWRIGHT IN THE VIETNAMESE ARTISTIC SCENE.
The Global Women’s Magazine had the honor of interviewing Artist Linh Huyen on the eve of the 2024 Lunar New Year, as she returned from Italy to Vietnam to receive the title of Ambassador of Traditional Arts conferred by the Vietnam Cultural Development Association.
FROM THE EARLY ARTISTIC FATE
Linh Huyen, born Nguyen Thi Ngoc Huyen in 1970 in Saigon, developed a passion for Cải Lương early in life. She began studying traditional opera under the guidance of Master Ut Trong at the age of 11 and continued until she was 18. (Master Ut Trong is credited with training over 50% of renowned artists in Vietnamese cải lương.)
In 1989, during her first year as a Home Economics student at the University of Technical Education, Linh Huyen participated in singing competitions in Ho Chi Minh City. She won the Silver Medal for “Cải Lương Voice 1989” and the A Prize for “Southern Folk Song and Lullaby Festival 1989.” This marked a crucial turning point in her career. Following these accolades, Linh Huyen was invited to attend the third year of specialized training in Cải Lương acting at the Stage Arts School II. After graduating in 1990, she contributed to numerous artistic groups, including the Youth Cải Lương Troupe of the Department of Trade and Industry, Van Cong Dong Thap Theater, Tran Huu Trang Theater, Idecaf Stage, and others.
TO THE MULTITALENTED ARTIST AND RENOWNED PLAYWRIGHT
Linh Huyen is not only an outstanding performer in traditional Vietnamese opera (Cải Lương) but also a highly influential playwright in the Vietnamese artistic scene. In 2001, she was taken under the wing of National Meritorious Artist Viễn Châu, who mentored her in scriptwriting for Cải Lương performances. Linh Huyen has authored over 100 scripts, spanning Cải Lương pieces, fulllength dramas, short plays, comedies, and even films and sitcoms.
Beyond her role as a playwright, Linh Huyen is a director and event organizer, overseeing numerous Cải Lương programs and variety shows at prominent venues like the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House, Kim Chau Theater, and Cong Nhan Theater. Her productions, such as “Little Hero of the Southern Region,” “The Indestructible Jade,” “Madam Nôm’s Poetry,” and “Lucky Lottery Winner,” carry a distinct Vietnamese historical and cultural flavor. Particularly noteworthy is the play “Madam Nôm’s Poetry,” which has been subtitled in English for international audiences and widely distributed worldwide.
From 2011 to the present, Linh Huyen embarked on the creation of the script for “Hồn Việt – The Soul of Vietnam” – an artistic series encompassing various traditional Vietnamese forms, including Hát Xẩm, Chầu Văn, Cải lương, Vovinam martial arts, the art of making traditional toy figurines (Tò He), and street vendors’ calls, interwoven with the delicate sounds of musical instruments like Bầu, Đàn Đá, T’rưng, and Sáo. This musical theater piece showcases the cultural richness of Vietnam as it progresses southward, captivating and serving tourists. “Hồn Việt – The Soul of Vietnam” has shone brightly at the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House and the Hanoi Opera House, winning the hearts of visitors from around the globe. The program has been recognized by the renowned American travel platform Trip Advisor as the “Most Attractive Cultural Destination” among 76 fascinating attractions in Ho Chi Minh City.
SOUTHERN VIETNAMESE TRADITIONAL OPERA MUSEUM
When did the idea of establishing the Southern Vietnamese Traditional Opera Museum emerge for someone with an artistic soul like you?
The idea of founding the Southern Vietnamese Traditional Opera Museum began when I received artifacts and musical documents of Cải Lương from my mentor, the musician Út Trong (1920-2005). Adding these to my existing collection, painstakingly preserved over the years, I felt a responsibility to share these treasures with the community. Together, we can appreciate the beautiful essence of Cải Lương that our ancestors created.
Moreover, upon meticulous study of these valuable documents, I discovered that Cải Lương music encapsulates the entire universe. It embodies the philosophy of yin and yang, the five elements, the eternal existence in the heavens and on earth, the intertwined destinies rooted in Buddhist philosophy, and a highly sophisticated natural science, far from the simplicity of folk oral traditions artist like “Xướng Ca Vô Loài.” Though it may sound unbelievable, witnessing the greatness that our ancestors built, visitors will surely be amazed when exploring the artifacts.
The Southern Vietnamese Traditional Opera Museum is designed to showcase and preserve the artistic heritage of Cải Lương. How do you believe the museum can help the younger generation better understand and preserve the values of Southern Cải Lương?
We often blame the younger generation for losing their roots, being detached, and not preserving our national identity. However, if we don’t exhibit what we want to preserve, how will the younger generation know and appreciate it? The museum serves as a bridge between the past and present to progress toward values in the future.
During the museum’s construction, what challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
In reality, there were numerous bureaucratic hurdles and delays, despite receiving approval for the Southern Vietnamese Traditional Opera Museum project from the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee in 2015, as well as from relevant departments such as Environmental Resources, Architecture, and Heritage. However, there is still no consensus on the land for constructing the museum. Despite these challenges, I have not been discouraged. Instead, I have temporarily moved everything online so that audiences can visit the “Southern Vietnamese Traditional Opera Museum” website. I am still hopeful that administrative obstacles will be resolved soon, allowing the museum to be officially open to the public.
Do you have any plans to create educational programs and events at the museum to enhance understanding and interest in the art of Cải Lương?
On the museum’s website, Cải Lương enthusiasts can download educational materials on learning Cải Lương singing techniques, including Nhứt Lý, Nhì Ngâm, Tam Nam, Tứ Oán, Ngũ Điểm, Lục Xuất, Thất Chính, Bát Ngự, Cửu Nhĩ, Thập Thủ Liên Hườn, twenty Câu Vọng Cổ in rhythms of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and hundreds of traditional songs, folklore, and poetic verses. In addition to accessing these texts, visitors can also listen and watch classic Cải Lương performances. Furthermore, a Karaoke room will allow learners to practice singing according to the correct tonalities, musical scales, and rhythmic patterns of Cải lương.
How do you think the Southern Vietnamese Traditional Opera Museum can contribute to introducing the art of Cải Lương in Vietnam to the world?
When traveling to a foreign country, those who seek to understand its culture often visit museums first. Therefore, the museum becomes the initial point of interest for tourists exploring a country they have decided to visit!
In your search and collection of materials for the museum, have you had any interesting experiences or special stories?
There have been many different memories, but within the confines of paper, it’s impossible to recount them all. However, the most interesting lesson learned during the collection process is that “Difficulty breeds wisdom,” one of the most dominant inherited traits of the Vietnamese people.
For instance, during extended tours when cosmetics were scarce, my grandparents had to ask the public for soot to mix with chicken fat to draw their eyes and eyebrows. (Linh Huyen still keeps a jar belonging to the artist Thanh Sang).
Do you plan to collaborate with artists and Cải Lương groups to sustain and develop the museum in the future?
Yes, the theater section in the museum project is the main source of revenue. Therefore, numerous artistic activities for all age groups have been planned from the early stages!
How do you believe the Southern Vietnamese Opera Museum can stimulate creativity and the development of the art of Cải Lương?
It not only stimulates but also nurtures a sense of national pride. This, in turn, will release the soul, combining with existing talents to create unique works of art, contributing not only to Vietnamese art but also to humanity as a whole.
Any message or words of sharing you would like to send to those who love and support the Southern Vietnamese Opera Museum?
The project to build the Southern Vietnamese Traditional Opera Museum is my own, but when the museum becomes a reality, it is a collective effort – the effort of all of us, the Vietnamese people. The younger generation must take responsibility for its preservation.
ART IS BORN FROM THE SYNTHESIS OF SOCIETY, AND CẢI LƯƠNG IS NO EXCEPTION. TO KEEP THE CẢI LƯƠNG HERITAGE INTACT WITH ITS ORIGINAL VALUES, IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERY VIETNAMESE PERSON.
BECOMING THE AMBASSADOR OF TRADITIONAL ARTS
Congratulations on becoming the Ambassador of Traditional Arts. How do you feel about taking on this role?
Thank you for your wishes. I am very happy to take on this role as it serves as a key to help me unlock the path to my dreams more quickly.
Throughout your career, you have created many outstanding traditional Vietnamese opera (Cải Lương) works. Living and working in Europe for an extended period, how do you manage to continue practicing Cải lương art in Europe?
Europe is the cradle of human civilization, where I directly learned and accessed similar arts like Opera.
Thanks to technology and the 4.0 era, my new creations have quickly and easily reached a sophisticated
audience through social media. For example, during the recent pandemic, I successfully organized the
performance “Bên Cầu Dệt Lụa” on the virtual stage of Sky Theater. Each artist was in a different country, and the audience didn’t have to leave their homes. Also, the “Út Trong Award” Cải lương singing competition was launched during this period and will be held regularly every two years.
As an Ambassador of Arts, do you have any plans to introduce and enhance the appeal of traditional Vietnamese art in Europe?
Occasionally, talks about traditional cultural arts at prestigious universities in Italy, such as Ca’ Foscari and Turino, have surprised and intrigued European intellectuals and Italians about Vietnamese traditional music. With the title of Ambassador of Traditional Arts of Vietnam, I will confidently introduce and nominate traditional Vietnamese performing arts to participate in the regularly held Opera Festival in Italy.
Being a Cải Lương artist but living in Europe, what challenges have you faced, and how have you dealt with these challenges?
Living in the birthplace of opera, I was fortunate to recognize the similarities and differences between the term “Kịch Hát” (Drama Singing) and the practical skills required of an artist. I told myself I had to learn more, from vocal training, music theory, foreign languages, etc., to be a globally recognized singing artist. I apply this mindset in my online Cải Lương singing course for my students.
Do you plan to collaborate with artists in Europe to create artistic projects and events?
Yes, I hope to soon present an opera piece to the audience, where Italian and Vietnamese artists will perform a famous world-renowned Tuồng (classical drama).
In your opinion, what is the importance of maintaining and developing traditional art in the context of globalization?
The traditional art of a nation is the cultural river, and the alluvium is the accumulation of customs, purity, ethics, throughout the history and society of that nation. If each nation cannot preserve the core cultural characteristics, it will easily dissolve in the flow of global history.
Any message you want to convey to your fans and the audience who love your Cải Lương art during this new challenging and responsible tenure?
Art is born from the synthesis of society, and Cải Lương is no exception. To keep the Cải Lương heritage
intact with its original values, it is the responsibility of every Vietnamese person. If not for the contribution
of Cải Lương enthusiasts, even the best efforts of an Ambassador won’t change anything.
Thank you, and I wish you health, luck, and all the best in the new year of 2024.
By: THUY TRANG