A Hong Kong performing arts school will offer a Cantonese opera degree in the latest effort to preserve the traditional art form designated as a key cultural heritage.
The Academy for Performing Arts said its program will combine theory and practice to prepare students for Cantonese opera careers as performers, educators or arts administrators.
The four-year degree program is the first of its kind for the art form sung in the southern Chinese dialect.
The degree would be offered starting in September 2013, the school said in a statement Monday. Depending on demand, the academy may add postgraduate degrees.
Cantonese opera performer Yuen Siu-fai welcomed the program, saying the craft was suffering a serious talent shortage. While veterans like himself have shifted their energies from performance to grooming new talents, few skilled performers are in their 20s or 30s.
"My first reaction is this is a very good thing. This is something I really hope for," Yuen told The Associated Press in a phone interview, adding that the program's success depends on the quality of its faculty and curriculum.
The Cantonese opera performers' group that Yuen helps manage, the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, has a continuing education school for working professionals. The association also runs courses at a secondary school and hopes to expand to a second.
Performance venues have also been cause for concern. The lease for Hong Kong's leading Cantonese opera theater, the Sunbeam Theater, is due to run out in February 2012, although the Hong Kong government has promised performance space in the planned $2.8 billion West Kowloon cultural hub designed by famed British architect Norman Foster.
Yuen said, however, the solution is not hardware, but rather addressing the general disrespect for performing arts. He said he has often lost promising youngsters to parents who force them to focus on their academic studies in their secondary school years as they prepare for university admission.
The Hong Kong government said in a statement it is committed to maintaining public interest in Cantonese opera. The Home Affairs Department said it plans to spend 30 million Hong Kong dollars ($3.9 million) this financial year on Cantonese Opera performances, training and research.
A separate Cantonese Opera Development Fund has awarded HK$37 million ($4.8 million) since its founding in 2005.
The Home Affairs Department plans to fund Academy for Performing Arts courses this year but didn't say if it will back the degree program.
Cantonese opera was added to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's key cultural heritage list in 2009.