Taiwanese opera: 4. Dutiful diva–an interview of Sun Tsui-feng (孫翠鳳)

Posted: 2014 年 05 月 13 日 in Taiwanese opera

Dutiful Diva: an interview of Sun Tsui-feng (孫翠鳳) by Kelly Her  (Free China Review/ September, 1998)

By an ironic coincidence, Ming Hwa Yuan’s leading lady married the man who was destined to become its producer only on condition that she would not be made to work in the family troupe. Few could have predicted her future fame—or its price.

Sun Tsui-feng knew nothing about Taiwanese opera until she married into the Ming Hwa Yuan family at the age to twenty-four. At first, her contributions were limited to taking bit parts, but she soon became stage-struck and dedicated to make a career of it. She is now the troupe’s leading performer, specializing in playing male leads. Sun frequently appears on television and in movies, and since her face is so well-known across the island, she has probably done more to popularize Ming Hwa Yuan than any other individual.

My life changed forever when I got married. Before that, I never thought I’d someday be involved with Taiwanese opera, which was all Greek to me then. I was born and educated in Taipei and considered myself a typically modern young miss. My father was a mainlander who met and married my Taiwanese mother over here, and at home we always spoke Mandarin.

Then one day, Chen Sheng-fu (Sun’s husband, the troupe’s president), the son of my mother’s elder sister, came to visit. Although we were cousins, I’d never met him before, because his family lived in the southernmost part of the island. At that time he was doing his compulsory military service in Taipei, and he used to hang out at our place whenever he was on leave. That was how we got to know each other, and eventually we fell in love.

My mother didn’t mind us getting married, but she did insist on one thing—my husband shouldn’t force me to get involved with Taiwanese opera, which she thought was real drudgery. At that time my husband-to-be was in the movie business and he didn’t have anything to do with the family troupe, so he felt free to make that commitment.

In the early years of our marriage, we’d go back to visit his family once in a while. At that time, everyone in the family, including all my sisters-in-law, worked for the troupe in some way. My husband and I were the only exceptions, although my in-laws were always very nice to me. They understood how I felt, and never asked me to get involved. But every time I went back and saw everyone so busy with the troupe, I felt a bit guilty. It was as if I wasn’t really part of this family, which put such huge stress on unity and always doing the right thing.

In the end, I volunteered to help out by playing minor roles when there wasn’t anyone else. And in the process, I gradually became interested in Taiwanese opera and found out that I might have some kind of talent for it. So once I started to take it seriously, I thought I should start learning some of the necessary techniques, including singing and acting, if I were to become a real professional.

But there was one big problem: I couldn’t speak Taiwanese. Luckily, I was able to pick it up quite quickly, just by being in the troupe—it was a great learning environment. Because I wanted to improve my acting, I began to practice acrobatics when I was thirty. It’s a real disadvantage to start such tough training at that age, particularly when, like me, you’ve had a child.

There were times when I’d get discouraged and burst into tears, but I never thought of quitting. At first, my awkwardness made everybody laugh at me. Fortunately, I’ve never been afraid of that, and I’d just laugh, too. But once everybody had gone home, I’d stay behind and practice until I’d caught up. Then I promised myself that nobody would laugh at me the next day, I was determined to come out a winner, and I’ve always believed that you can overcome your faults if you try hard enough. Through sheer hard work and not losing faith in myself, I managed to learn the most difficult techniques, one by one.





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