Whether the casts for this week’s Aida are the best ever assembled for opera in Hong Kong—they have some competition from Hong Kong Arts Festival productions, including a Simon Boccanegra with Roberto Frontali, Michele Pertusi, Giorgio Berrugi and Erika Grimaldi, and a Traviata with Carmen Giannattasio and José Bros—is the sort of thing opera-goers love to debate. But these others have been traveling productions from overseas operas rather than something developed and produced by a local company.
Tony Banham has produced a very clear and detailed account of the civilian evacuations from Hong Kong in July of 1940. His extensive detail makes it clear that the evacuation’s potentially complicated logistics in fact went off much more smoothly than might have been expected. Less than half of Hong Kong’s British population was evacuated, and the officials and the general public in Manila and Australia were extremely welcoming, resettling the refugees quickly. Nevertheless, the entire operation generated persistent complaints right up to the eventual Japanese invasion.
For most of its history, Hong Kong has been tied to the sea and ships. Today’s urban metropolis of skyscrapers and financial institutions is a relatively recent development.
Where there are ships, there are seamen; some of Hong Kong’s most venerable if not necessarily best-known institutions relate to their welfare. Strong to Save is a history of these institutions, culminating in the establishment of the Mariners’ Club a half-century ago. One can hardly think of anyone better suited than author and historian Stephen Davies to tell this story. Davies has an encyclopedic knowledge of anything to do with the China Coast, ships and seafaring; his writing manages to be rigorous without being dry.
When one transports an opera set in 13th-century Florence to early 20th-century Shanghai, as Opera Hong Kong did for the comic opera half of this weekend’s double bill of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, one can expect some textual inconsistencies. Puccini’s only outing in opera buffa tells a story hinted at in Dante’s Inferno: of an out-of-towner who tricks a wealthy family out their inheritance by will-tampering. The story might have come from the pages of the South China Morning Post, so audiences on the whole seem willing to overlook the references to Tuscany. The setting allowed for a number of (quite funny) culturally-specific sight gags.
Whether or not you agree with the arguments of Hong Kong’s student activists, everyone can agree that their emergence has been one of the biggest changes to Hong Kong’s political situation for at least a decade.
The Opium Wars are probably the only actual shooting wars in history that are named after a drug. They may be the only major wars between countries that are named after a commodity of any kind. Britain and Iceland had their cod war, but that hardly counts. The United States had a Whiskey Rebellion and Australia had a Rum Rebellion. France and Mexico fought a desultory Pastry War in 1838 that cost Santa Anna his left leg and catapulted the rest of him to dictatorship. But the Opium Wars set the trajectory of the East Asian interstate system for 100 years and resonate in historical memory to this day.
Knowingly or not, anyone who has spent much time at all on what used to be called the “China Coast” will surely have come across the paintings of the George Chinnery, an English artist active in Macau in the second quarter of the 19th century. Whatever profile Chinnery may have in the broader painterly pantheon, in Hong Kong and Macau he is the closest to an artistic native son that the Western colonial tradition has.