The World of Chinatown Theaters

Sat, Dec 9, 2017 @ 2:30pm - 4:00pm

Tickets (includes museum admission): $12/adult; $7/student (w ID) and senior (65 & up); Free for MOCA members.

Click here to purchase tickets.


Please join Nancy Rao and Joanna C. Lee for an afternoon of Chinese theater in America. Nancy Rao, author of Chinatown Opera Theater in North America, a new book about the world of Chinatown theaters in New York and San Francisco and professor of music at Rutgers University, discusses the enormous complex story of these theaters.  On the one hand, the elements outside of the theaters— impresarios competing for performers and audiences and business organizations facilitating the performances—and on the other hand, the world inside the theater, including Cantonese opera, stellar performers, legends and music.
Rao says, “Whether for young children and their families, men and women doing work at laundries or merchants and store owners, Cantonese opera was an important form of musical utterance. Few other genres matched opera songs as apt expressions of mood, values and feelings for them. In particular, during the period of renaissance in the 1920s, live performance was still the most important form of entertainment and theaters the largest gathering place in the community.”


The conversation will be moderated by Joanna C. Lee, one of Hong Kong’s noted experts on Cantonese opera,


Speaker Bios


Nancy Yunhwa Rao is one of the leading scholars in Chinese American music studies. Her work highlights the much-neglected musical history of Chinese in the United States, Canada, and Cuba. Her research has led to writings on transnational issues in the production and opera performance in these Chinatown theaters. She has mined immigration files for this research. Her book, Chinatown Opera Theater in North America, published by University Illinois Press, includes analysis of playbills, performing networks, opera arias, stage spectacles, and more. Her publications have provided innovative analytical approaches to cross-cultural music, and enhanced public discussions about cultural encounter in music. Through her scholarship, as well as teaching, she has promoted diversity and advanced knowledge and dialogue about the complexity of diversity issues in music scholarship.

Joanna C. Lee received degrees in piano performance from London’s Royal College of Music and musicology from New York’s Columbia University. Later joining the music faculty at the University of Hong Kong, she received a 12-month grant to document an oral history of amateur Cantonese opera singing in Hong Kong and the American and Canadian diaspora. A longtime Honorary Research Fellow for HKU’s Centre of Asian Studies (2003-11), she is also an active translator and advisor for a broad range of cultural organizations.