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Actress UT BACH LAN – An Artist’s Life is Like a Short-lived Flower

Đăng lúc: Thứ tư - 11/06/2014 10:39 - Đã xem: 2935
Actress UT BACH LAN –  An Artist’s Life is Like a Short-lived Flower

Actress UT BACH LAN – An Artist’s Life is Like a Short-lived Flower


CLVNCOM - After learning that the Hoa Binh Theater is going to have a liveshow for NSUT Ut Bach Lan , I decided to pay her a visit. Her small house on Tran Hung Dao Street looks the same – still the lonely hammock where she usually sits to study her lines and the Buddha altar with incense burning. Ms. Ut is a lot skinnier now but her smiles are still friendly and warm. She softly said, “At 65 years of age and after 40 years in the same career, I am very happy to still be able to sing. I am very grateful for the ancestors of Cai Luong and my beloved audiences.”

When will your program start rehearsing?

Director Huu Luan will start the rehearsals on March 30th and 31st. I am counting every passing day looking forward to replaying my old favorite roles. Nevertheless, I have to admit I had conflicting feelings of joy and worry over the last few days. I am happy about the chance to have my own program at the age of 65, but I am worried whether audiences will still remember me and buy tickets to show their support.

How did you put your mind at ease then?

I thought about my mother, an 85-year-old woman who devoted her whole life to her daughter. My mother always loves to see me perform on stage. She also wants to know what kind of comments audiences have for Ut Bach Lan. All of that gives me the confidence to hold a liveshow at this late stage in my career – the last one to commemorate my life-long profession.


Please don’t be pessimistic! Why is it the last? New generations need the experienced ones like you to guide and teach them.

That was the good example once set by the former generations of Cai Luong actors. They were Ms. Bay Phung Ha, Mr. Ba Van, Mr. Nam Nghia, teacher Vien Chau, Ms. Hai Kim Cuc, and some other composers who were really kind-hearted such as Ha Trieu, Hoa Phuong, Le Khanh, Kien Giang… They passionately looked after and developed our skills and abilities. Today, I see some young actors who would say nice words in front of you, but they do not respect you behind your back. They think that they are more talented than you are, and become self-centered and arrogant. They do not know that an artist’s fame is short-lived, similar to the ice-plant flowers, blooming early in the morning and wilting fast in the evening!

Perhaps that is the reason why Cai Luong was on a decline over the last few years. My fellow colleagues and I, aging but still wanting to contribute, are losing our patience and interest when we often have to wait for these younger actors to come back from their shows before we can rehearse. They just do not take the rehearsal seriously as we do! 

Do you believe the Cai Luong art is on its way to revival?

Not really! That kind of revival does not come from the fruits of labor of new and younger generations’ actors. We can see that the older generation has brought new light and hope to the Tran Hung Dao cinema, but, sadly, that light is only strong enough to shine over the good old days.

Which characters that you portrayed throughout your 40-year career are you going to replay in this special liveshow?

They are the ones that made me famous to audiences, such as Ms. Hang in “Con Gai Chi Hang”, Mrs. Lan in “Tuyet Tinh Ca”, Miss The in “Nua Doi Huong Phan”, etc. Each of them has had sentimental meaning throughout my difficult and miserable life.

Is that why you cried so much in those signature roles, because they resembled your miserable childhood?

I became fatherless at the age of 6. My grandmother’s family was so poor that my mother had to carry me to Cho Lon to find work. My mother became a hired hand for some vendors at Cho Lon market (now Binh Tay market). Together with other families who left their hometowns to find work in Cho Lon, we tried to form a group to help and look after each other. That was how my mother and Van Vi’s mother became close friends, very much like sisters. (Van Vi later became a very famous musician.) We were both fatherless, so we loved and sympathized with each other easily. Every morning we went around the market to do whatever other vendors told us to do. In return, they paid us with what they had - fish or vegetables. We then brought them home for our two mothers to cook. At night, four of us slept inside the market and dreamed of having our own little place some day.

When did you two discover your abilities to play music and sing Vong Co songs?

One year later, Van Vi got smallpox and became blind. My two mothers cried so much for his cruel fate. He became deeply pensive. He spent a lot of time in the dark to explore a guitar that someone had thrown away. Magically, he taught himself how to play music skillfully. At that time I was totally carefree. While working for the vendors, if I heard songs on the radio, I would stop working and then sing out loud. One day, both of us decided to make a living by singing on the streets. At first, the two mothers did not approve. But they later gave in after realizing our decision was the best solution for our desperate situation at the time.

What made you and Mr. Van Vi take up music professionally?

When good words spread that a little girl named Ut at Bau Sen market sang very well, Ms. Nam Can Tho, the then-famous actress, came and asked my mother to let me sing for the Phap A radio station. My first song was “Con Chim Hoa Mi” (A Nightingale). In 1950, seeing our homeless situation, an old man at the Bau Sen market shared part of his house so that we could build a shelter. I am also thankful to actor Thanh Cong for introducing me to the owner of the Phap A radio station. I signed a long-term contract to sing for him. I was given a stage name Bach Lan to compete with actress Bach Hue at the national radio station. I asked my manager to let me keep Ut, the name that my parents gave me, to show my deep gratitude to them for giving birth to me and raising me. So my stage name became Ut Bach Lan.

Was it your simple yet deeply emotional singing voice that helped you quickly become well known on the Cai Luong stage at that time?

In 1952, a relative introduced me to the Kim Chung troupe to start training. Although they liked my voice, I first had to learn how to dance, to take very small parts in the plays before taking up further steps. Composer Vien Chau had purposely written some extra Vong Co verses for me to sing, but a leading actress was jealous of me because I received more reward money thrown onto the stage from audiences; sometimes the amount reached $100 VND, a big sum at that time. As a result, I was no longer allowed to sing, and they sent me to work at the ticket booth instead. One year later, actor Hoang Giang introduced me to Thanh Minh troupe to replace actress Thanh Huong. From then on, my dream of becoming an actress came true, and I was finally able to make enough money to support my mother.

Was it tough during your training years?

I am thankful for the tough conditions I had to go through because they prepared me for the difficult roles later on. I will never forget the punishments from Mr. Nam Nghia (actor Bao Quoc’s father) who helped make my performance perfect, and allowed me to receive much praise from audiences.

How can you tell the differences between the role of a leading actress and a main character?

They are very different, but many people have mistaken them to be the same. As a matter of fact, to be a leading actress, one needs talent, looks, and knowledge. For me, after the turning-point of joining Thanh Minh troupe, I could not stand on my own two feet until 5 years later.

When you think of all the actors who were once your former mentors, whose performing style do you remember most?

It is Mr. Ba Van. He was a preeminent stage actor in South Vietnam. It was he who helped me put my pride aside to come back to Thanh Minh troupe and take the supporting roles to get more experience. I remember it was in 1975 when I acted with him on the same stage with Sai Gon 1 troupe. He got huge raves from everyone for his performance as Tam Khoe in the play named “Nguoi Ven Do” (Country Man) by composer Minh Khoa. It was the Ai Tu Ke verse in which he pretended to be insane. ”I am Tam Khoe. I agree to secede from communist party.” When he portrayed that role, he skillfully expressed his painful state of mind, he pulled his hair, and his eyes were full of tears… Since then, there has not been any other actor who can perform that role as well as Mr. Ba Van.

I know that you were given some affectionate nicknames by journalists in Saigon before 1975 such as “The Sorrowful Actress Ut Bach Lan”, “The Princess of Suong Chieu Style”, “Mystical Queen” “The Great Wall of Vong Co”, etc. What do you think of those?

Every actor must be very happy when honored with such nicknames. Each of those nicknames has its own unforgettable origin. For example, when singing Suong Chieu style, I combined the techniques of simplicity and quickly changing the notes within the same scale. This combined technique stayed in the listeners’ hearts. Or the nickname “The Great Wall of Vong Co” was born because I was not picky in choosing the Vong Co songs – I could sing them all, and, especially, I did not ask any songwriters to rewrite the lyrics. All that brought me self-confidence because the above unique method of singing is my own gifted technique which was developed from my life experience.

How do you evaluate the young actors’ styles of singing Vong Co songs nowadays?

They have their unique styles, but some of them do not understand that the specific characteristics of Cai Luong are soulful and narrative. When they feel like it, they change the verses by adding more than 100 or 200 words into the songs, and then sing in one long stretch without pausing to take a breath. That completely ruins the Vong Co songs.

What do you think of the Tran Huu Trang Award, organized by the Stage Association in Ho Chi Minh City over the last 6 years?

In my opinion, the Stage Association in HCM City has successfully and professionally held the awards to continue the tradition of the Thanh Tam Award in encouraging actors of younger generations to stay in this profession. However, in this difficult time, how can we find enough qualified actors to reward 5 to 6 gold medals every year?

In some recent years, you have been the judge in the contests to select good singers in Ho Chi Minh City (Bong Lua Vang), Long An, Dong Thap, Kien Giang, Can Tho, Bien Hoa, Tay Ninh, Binh Duong… What do you think of the young population’s interest in singing amateur Cai Luong and Vong Co?

Not only I but the leaders of those cities where the contests were held feel happy to see that the young generations do not forget their roots. If Cai Luong is included in the curriculum at universities like some other forms of arts, the public will understand and love Cai Luong more. I am aware that Hung Vuong, a private university, is the first one to offer a course of traditional music (beginning on March 23rd with 160 students), and lectured by Professor Tran Van Khe. This is a good sign for Cai Luong to be taught at universities.

In the past, you taught singing and acting at Ho Chi Minh College for Stage and Film. Why did you stop?

Your question brings back sad memories. Every day coming to class, all I heard about was dating and courting among the students. They seemed to take forever to learn a Vong Co song. I felt so frustrated that I resigned. Perhaps the traditional art is not taken seriously anymore in this day and age.

I learned that you and the recording company Rang Dong just traveled to the U.S.A. to look for new business opportunities. What did you get from the trip?

The living conditions in California are not as easy as many people think. I met some fellow actors such as Viet Hung, Ngoc Nuoi, Dung Thanh Lam and others. They are all homesick. They missed their old career and their glorious singing days back in Vietnam. I will forever remember the sad looks and the audience’s tears at the gathering at A.T. restaurant in California, which was organized by the Long An Association. They cried so much when listening to my singing the songs “Lan and Diep” and “The Mother Teaches her Child”.

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