Lou Mee Wah



Lou Mee Wah (b. 30 March 1951, Singapore–)1 is a Cantonese opera singer well known for her role as a male impersonator. She has received many glowing reviews for playing sheng, or male roles, ranging from gentle scholars to fearsome warriors. Her teacher, mentor and stage partner was the well-known Cantonese opera singer, Joanna Wong. In the later part of her artistic career, Lou began to explore playing female roles. For her artistic contributions, Lou was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Chinese Opera in 1997.2

Early life and career

Lou was the fourth child in a family comprising six children. Her father, a rice merchant, was a Thai Chinese who immigrated to Singapore. Though her father was Teochew, Lou grew up speaking Cantonese because her mother was Cantonese.3

Lou attended CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School until she completed her GCE ‘A’ levels.4 As a child, Lou was introverted. She spent her free time at home reading, drawing and listening to music and Cantonese operas.5 She enjoyed art and took drawing lessons with renowned Singapore artist Liu Kang.6

Upon completing her ‘A’ levels, Lou enrolled in the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore, or NUS) to study accountancy. However, due to a lack of interest, she withdrew from the university after one year and worked in a bank instead.7

Lou’s nights and weekends were spent entirely on singing practice, martial arts training, and preparation for performances at the Singapore Kong Chow Wui Koon Music and Opera division, and later at the Chinese Theatre Circle (CTC).8

In 1992, following the death of her father, Lou resigned from her job at the bank. At the same time, she decided to join CTC as a full-time opera artist.9 In 1993, Lou became a full-time singing and opera trainer at the Tanjong Pagar Community Club.10

Artistic career
From a young age, Lou was exposed to various types of traditional operas. Her father, who loved Teochew, Cantonese and Beijing operas, would take her along with him for opera performances. They would also listen to Chinese opera records together.11

A chance viewing of a telecast of Madam White Snake performed by Joanna Wong – who was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Chinese Opera in 1981 –  on television stirred a desire in Lou to learn Cantonese opera.12

Upon graduating from school, the 19-year-old Lou got her father’s permission to join opera classes conducted at the Kong Chow Wui Koon.13 There, she met Wong, who was then already a famous Cantonese opera artist. Lou was a keen and hard-working student. She was willing to perform any task assigned to her, from copying the scripts to drawing the scenery for the set.14 Soon, she was learning various aspects of Cantonese opera from singing and acting to stage make-up.15

Lou’s early opera roles were usually as guard, servant or maid. As Lou was a very diligent student, Wong gradually groomed her to take on more prominent and challenging roles. Finally in 1978, Lu was promoted to the second male lead in the performance of Goddess of Luo, partnering with Wong herself.16

In Kong Chow Wui Koon, Luo had the opportunity to observe and train under many opera masters, such as renowned Hong Kong Cantonese opera instructor Yam Tai Fan, who trained her in martial arts.17

In 1981, Lou left Kong Chow Wui Koon together with Wong and founded the CTC.18 She was the lead actor, co-artistic director and trainer. With CTC, Lou Mee Wah gave many acclaimed performances both locally and overseas.19

One of Lou’s most memorable roles was as the boorish Emperor of Liao in A Costly Impulse. This role won her many favourable reviews. It was difficult for many to believe that the superb performance was given by a female, which was a testimony to Lou’s artistry.20 After a highly successful performance in Singapore, the production was restaged numerous times in China, Germany and Romania from 1993 to 1995. A Costly Impulse went on to become the first foreign opera production to be recorded and broadcast to audiences all over China.21

In 1990, Lou was diagnosed with breast cancer. She recovered but suffered a relapse in 2001.22 After her recovery in 2001, Lou decided to focus on teaching instead of performing though she continued to take part in CTC’s performances.23

The next 10 years saw Lou teaching and training students in opera and singing at the Tanjong Pagar Community Club. She led her students to put a number of operas and recitals, all of which were very well received. In particular, A Costly Impulse and Emperor Xun Zhi were two large-scale productions that had good reviews. Lou also led her students to perform overseas at the Fourth International Cantonese Opera Festival in Guangzhou in 2004.24

In 2009, Lou made her first stage appearance in a dan, or female role as Wang Xi Feng in A Dream of Red Chamber. This was a surprise to many of her fans as she had always played the male role.25

In 2010, Lou left CTC to become a freelance performer and to dedicate her time to teaching and mentoring a new generation of opera artists.26

Stylistic conventions
Lou made her debut on the Cantonese opera scene playing a sheng, or male role. It was a common practice in Chinese opera tradition for a female to play the part of a male. From the start, Lou was very clear that she wanted to be a sheng.27 Lou has played various male roles, from scholars28 to emperors29 and assassins.30 The sheng role requires a strong voice and realistic male mannerisms. For the warrior roles, the performer has to be good in martial arts and strong enough to perform acrobatic acts. Despite such challenges, Lou has been able to play the male role with sensitivity and without any feminine air.31 She has received particular praise for her turn as the Liao King Dao Zhong in A Costly Impulse.32


In the later stages of her opera career, Lou attempted female roles with success. This was remarkable as it required Lou to change her singing and acting styles – something that was difficult to achieve.33

Awards34
1981:
Singapore Youth Award.
1993:
Commendation Certificate from the Ministry of Culture of China.

1997: Cultural Medallion for Chinese Opera.



Author
Chor Poh Chin




References
1.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
2. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
3.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
4. 张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 2]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

5. 张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 2]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

6. 张键业(访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/04, p. 87]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

7. 张键业(访员) [Zhang, J. Y.] (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 4]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

8. 张键业(访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, pp. 5, 7]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

9. 张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 20]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
; Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
10.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 21]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
11.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
12. 张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 2]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
13. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
14.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
15. 张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 6]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

16. 胡桂馨 [Hu, G. X.]. (2013). 红氍毹上之不倒翁 [Joanna Wong: An indomitable life, an operatic legacy]. 新加坡: 敦煌剧, p. 109. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 792.5092 WJ)
17.
Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
18.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 8]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
19. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
20.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/04, p. 104]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
21. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
22.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/02, p. 29]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
23. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
24.
Lou, M. W. 卢眉桦: 个人档案 [Lu Mei Hua]. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://loumeewah.blogspot.sg/2010/01/lou-mee-wah-is-household-name-in.html; Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
25.
敦煌艺术总监卢眉桦<<王熙凤大闹宁国府>>首次演花旦 [Dun Huang yi shu zong jian Lu Mei Hua “Wang Xi Feng da nao Ning Guo Fu” shou ci yan hua dan]. (2008, December 25). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26.
Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah
27.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/01, p. 5]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
28. 敦煌剧场25日呈献粤剧"六月雪" [Dun huang ju chang 25 ri cheng xian yue ju “Liu Yue Xue”]. (1982, December 18). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29.
Lou, M. W. 卢眉桦: 个人档案[Lu Mei Hua]. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://loumeewah.blogspot.sg/2010/01/lou-mee-wah-is-household-name-in.html
30.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
31.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
32.
张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y.]. (Interviewer). (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/04, p. 106]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
33. 张键业 (访员) [Zhang, J. Y. (Interviewer)]. (2010, February 2). Oral history interview with Lou Mee Wah [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003467/05/03, pp. 52–53]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
34. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lou Mee Wah. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lou+Mee+Wah



The information in this article is valid as at 6 February 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Personalities
Arts