Charitable Choices: Rosa Cheng of Vancouver Cantonese Opera

The Vancouver Cantonese Opera is a vibrant and culturally significant non-profit organization playing a pivotal role in preserving and promoting this rich heritage. Through a committed core of volunteers, dedicated artists, and passionate supporters, the Vancouver Cantonese Opera strives to educate, entertain, and engage the community with its mesmerizing art form. We spoke with Rosa Cheng, the Founder and Artistic Director, to learn more.

Cantonese Opera

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

The Vancouver Cantonese Opera (VCO) is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Cantonese opera in Canada.

What problem does it aim to solve?

We work tirelessly to engage the community through educational programs, cultural events, and collaborative performances. Our dedicated team of volunteers plays a pivotal role in preserving this rich cultural tradition, fostering cross-cultural understanding, and enhancing the artistic landscape in Canada.

When did you start/join it?

VCO was incorporated on June 30thm, 2000, and was designated as a charitable organization in Feb.23.2005.

What made you want to get involved?

My passion for this art form and a deep-rooted commitment to cultural preservation were the driving forces that led me to get involved. I recognized the unique beauty and historical significance of Cantonese opera and felt compelled to ensure its survival and flourishing in the Canadian cultural landscape.

I saw an opportunity to bridge cultural divides and share this rich heritage with a broader audience. The mesmerizing performances, intricate storytelling, and vibrant tradition of Cantonese opera have the power to captivate hearts and transcend language barriers. This potential for cultural enrichment and connection motivated me to establish VCO and work tirelessly to promote and preserve this cherished art form for current and future generations in Canada.

What was the situation like when you started?

When I established VCO in 2000, there were only three non-profit Cantonese opera music societies in Vancouver’s Chinatown. These organizations primarily functioned as social clubs and held annual performances at the Chinese Cultural Centre. Their focus was not only on professionalism or promoting Cantonese opera to the wider community. Consequently, the mainstream population remained largely unfamiliar with the art of Cantonese opera.

How has it changed since?

Since VCO entered the Cantonese opera scene, our mission has been to bridge the cultural gap and introduce this exquisite art form to the mainstream population. We’ve achieved this through several initiatives:

Multilingual Accessibility: We offer English and Chinese narration as well as subtitles for all our performances and events. This ensures that both Cantonese opera enthusiasts and newcomers can fully appreciate the beauty of the art.

Community Engagement: In collaboration with the City of Richmond, we launched the Multicultural Heritage Festival and hosted the Bamboo Theatre at the Richmond World Festival from 2016 to 2019. These events have allowed us to connect with a diverse audience and showcase the cultural richness of Cantonese opera.

Outreach Programs: We have implemented outreach and audience-building programs in community centres, libraries, and schools. Additionally, we provide free workshops titled “Cantonese Opera Behind the Scenes: to high schools, universities and libraries, fostering a deeper understanding of this art form.

Opera-In-Care: Our “opera-In-Care” program involves performances in senior homes and hospital care centres, ensuring that seniors with mobility challenges can enjoy the beauty of Cantonese Opera in their surroundings.

Adapting to the Pandemic: Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, we launched “Cantonese Opera In The Cloud,” an online Zoom live event. This digital production was designed to cater primarily to individuals whose outings were restricted during the pandemic, allowing them to experience the magic of Cantonese opera from the comfort of their homes.

Innovative Collaborations: In 2018, we collaborated with “Son of James,” an indie rock band, to present “Tale of the Eastside Lantern.” This groundbreaking bilingual hybrid Chinese rock opera brought together two distinct musical genres, showcasing the versatility of Cantonese opera.

Cantonese Fusion Opera: In 2022, VCO proudly introduced the first-ever Cantonese Fusion Opera, “The Prop Master’s Dream.” With this production, our goal is to infuse Cantonese opera with contemporary and experimental approaches to musical composition, stage performances, and storytelling. By collaborating with artists from diverse genres and traditions, we aim to explore new avenues of creative expression and audience engagement.

Embracing Artistic Risk-Taking: To preserve the dynamic tradition of Cantonese opera, which has absorbed influences from various cultures over the years, we consider artistic risk-taking as vital to our success. We are committed to pushing boundaries and embracing innovative approaches to keep this art form vibrant and relevant.

In summary, VCO has undergone a remarkable transformation since its inception, expanding its reach, embracing innovation, and ensuring the enduring legacy of Cantonese opera in Canada’s diverse cultural landscape.

What more needs to be done?

As the Artistic Director of VCO, I believe there are several key areas where we can continue to focus our efforts for further enrich and promote the art of Cantonese opera in Canada:

– Financial Sustainability
– Expand Educational Initiatives.
– Diversify Artistic Collaborations.
– Support Emerging Talent
– Digital Engagement: Embrace technology to broaden our reach
– Accessible Performances
– Community Outreach
– Preservation of Heritage
– Audience Feedback
– Youth Engagement

How can our readers help?

Attend our performances. Spread the Word. Become a Volunteer. Financial Support. Corporate Sponsorship. Attend Workshops. Advocate for Arts Funding. Collaborate with us. Host a Fundraiser. Educate Others.

By actively engaging with VCO and supporting our efforts, you play a vital role in ensuring that the vibrant tradition of Cantonese opera continues to thrive in Canada. Your involvement is not just an investment in the arts but also in the enrichment of our cultural tapestry. We deeply appreciate your interest and support in preserving this unique heritage.

Where can we follow you?

Website | Email

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

The Vancouver Food Bank


About Emilea Semancik 139 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to work as a freelance writer and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. Taking influence from journalism culture surrounding the great and late Anthony Bourdain, she is a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of books. You can find her food blog on Instagram: