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Friday, December 06, 2019, 15:43
Xi Xi’s women of substance
By Li Meng
Friday, December 06, 2019, 15:43 By Li Meng

Based on Xi Xi’s short stories, Women Like Us will run as part of Hong Kong Arts Festival in March 2020. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Festival (HKAF), the Cantonese-language chamber opera Women Like Us will be performed in March 2020 at Hong Kong City Hall as part of the Jockey Club Local Creative Talents Series which aims to showcase the creativity and imagination of local art practitioners. 

Based on two short stories — “A Girl Like Me” and “The Cold” — the production could be viewed as a singing tribute to the renowned Hong Kong novelist Xi Xi. Earlier this year local composer Daniel Lo was invited to participate in the Cattle Depot Creative Hub project, a program started by the HKAF to offer emerging artistes a platform to display their ideas. Working with the librettist Wong Yi, Lo combined the two stories to create a six-set chamber opera named Two Ladies which has evolved over a year to its current iteration, Women Like Us

Both stories have well-etched women characters at their center. “A Girl Like Me” is about a young woman working as a make-up artist for the dead. Her dilemma is whether or not to tell her boyfriend about what she does for a living. The protagonist in “The Cold” is a social worker unable to walk out of an unhappy marriage so as to not displease her parents. Written in the early 1980s, both stories describe urban women fighting the odds to create a free space for themselves in their marital and professional lives, struggling to achieve their personal ambitions even as they are torn between traditional and modern values. 

Music composer Daniel Lo says Xi Xi’s individualistic women protagonists have stood the test of time. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

According to Lo, the two stories —both have seen a number of adaptations — have stood the test of time, in terms of narrative style as well as in portraying an individual’s  relationship  with the community. 

“They are more than just love stories,” says Lo. Xi is an insightful writer whose protagonists show how women can make their voices heard and lead the lives they want, he adds.

A passionate reader of local literature, Lo has adapted several Chinese short novels and modern poems written by Hong Kong authors into chamber operas and choral pieces. Women Like Us is his first opera sung in Cantonese. Although the process brought unexpected challenges, Lo says he is proud of writing a music piece in his native language that helps to explore the diversity of the local music scene.

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