What is Lakhon Bassac
Lakhaon Bassac is a traditional opera play, a Cambodian type of entertainment. It is one of the most popular play in Cambodia in the old day, especially in a rural countryside, performed in dry season (summer) after harvesting crops during a festival.
The performers consists of skillful actors, beautiful voice vocalists, wardrobe specialists, make-up artists, skillful musicians, and more. They form their own group and give themselves a name (a business name). At a countryside, villagers hire them to perform for their guests ' pleasure during a special occasion or festivity. It is always outdoor performance and during nighttime. Prior to 1970 (before the Cambodian civil war), it is almost always that the festival organizer builds a makeshift opera stage and the performance group brings their own stage materials and equipment. Today, the performance group has their own mobile stage unit. They will take care of everything so that the organizers can sit back and enjoy the show.
In the city, mainly Phnom Penh and some provincial towns, there are commercial opera houses or theaters with a published schedule of performance. Prior to 1976, there were two famous opera houses in Phnom Penh, Lakhon Phsa Tuoul Tumpoung and Lakhon Phsa Silep. Also, Cambodians are still memorializing two iconic Lakhon Bassac stars even though they already passed away: Mr Saing Sarun and Mrs. Chek Mach.
Lakhon Bassac originates from Ã”Ã‡Ã¿Lakhon Treoung Klok ', a type of an opera show performed in the Bassac region of Kampuchea Krom, a Cambodia lowland region that is now part of South Vietnam that was given to Vietnam during a century-old French Protectorate era. Lakhon Bassac made debut into Cambodia in the 1930s. Quite often, Mr. Ly Suon, known as Merchant Chha Kruon, brought a Lakhon performing troupe from Kampuchea Krom to Phnom Penh and have them performed in Cambodian high-land provinces along the Bassac River. The performances became very popular and people began to call it "Lakhon Bassac". Lakhon Bassac is also influenced by Chinese opera, known to be the original root of this kind of opera, and the Vietnamese opera as Cambodian low-landers have been living under the Vietnamese rule.
In the 1960s, Lakhaon Bassac was strongly promoted by well-known actors such as Mr. Sang Sarun and Ms. Chek Mach. Today, Cambodians still consider them as legendary performers. Their unparalleled voice is so beautiful that no one today can be a match-up to such a high caliber of singing and performing art. In 1993 the Ministry of Culture of Fine Arts officially recognized Mrs. Chek Mach as Virak Selapakarini (Grand Master of Artist). She died in 2011. Not much is known about Mr. Saing Sarun 's biography. He is no longer on earth. We do not know how and when he died. Most of us presume that he died during the Khmer Rouge era during which almost all of highly skilled performers were killed. Saing Sarun and Chek Mach voices remain with us on taped recordings. Click links below to listen to the voice recording of Saing Sarun and Chek Mach:
|Or Neak Mean Kun (Mother Grace) by Saing Sarun||
|Excerpt from Preah Vesandor by Saing Sarun||
|Preah Vesandor by Saing Sarun and Chek Mach||
|Lakhon Bassac song by Saing Sarun||
Presently, this form of Cambodian entertainment is on the brink of collapse due to the influence of modern cultures. Very few performing troupes exist for hire and we do not even know if there is any opera house or theatre in Phnom Penh or elsewhere.
Lakhaon Bassac is a performing art that tells a complete story or a legend. The legend always consists of a story about Kingdom reigned by a King and a Queen. They have a prince who has to endure an adventurous journey from the luxurious royal palace to a deep jungle searching for knowledges, wisdoms, warrior skills and magic power from a legendary master called Ta Eiysey (a character as an old wise man, wearing white clothes, a funny-looking walking stick, and a long white beard) who seems to live in a secluded, mountainous area. The prince 's journey is usually accompanied by a personal servant, a comic character with spectacular gestures that move audiences into laughing. At the Asrom (house) of Ta Eiysey, there is a servant called AKeang, also a comic character.
The king, the queen and the prince represent a good spirit, a good guy. The Yeak (a giant character sometimes called Asura) reigned a Nokor Yeak (Yeak 's Kingdom). Despite the ugly-looking appearance, not to mention the size, the Yeak sometimes has a wife also a Yeak, sometimes a beautiful wife woman. However, the Yeak always has a very beautiful human daughter, most stories, she was born from a lotus flower. The Yeak found her by chance and raise her as a daughter.
While the prince learns his fighting skills and magic power from Ta Eiysey, the Yeak acquires his similar skills from Ta Eiyso. Ta Eiysey and Ta Eiyso are similar characters.
The Yeak is said to represent an evil spirit, a bad guy. But each story is complex and hardly judged. The beauty of the princess, the Yeak 's daughter, always caught the prince attention. He sneaks into the Princess palace and lure her into loving him. Once the Yeak finds out, the war breaks and the magical power fighting begins between the Prince, who just completes his training, with the Yeak.
The Lakhon Bassac is not characterized by how the story goes. Story can be told by other mean such as a movie producer could just take the story and shoot a movie out it. It has the following main characteristics:
Costume: The male stars, usually the prince is wearing a costume sewing with a very complicate patterns. The costume and the crown are decorated with beautiful jewelries. His weapon is an arch and bows or a stick.
Yeak: he/she always looks ugly.
Performance (prince): jumping up and down, turning around, and waving his weapon according to the sound of a drum. He sings a song with a music that choreographed specifically for this type of entertainment. Here is the sample of a prince performance:
Performance (Yeak): jumping up and down, turning around, and waving his weapon according to the sound of a drum. He sings a song too, but his voice is a yelling style as to scare people of. Here is the sample of a Yeak performance:
Music: a scene is always preluded with a sound of a drum and a melodic sound of a low-pitch fiddle and a dulcimer.
|Sample of drum beat||
|Sample of scene prelude||
Ta Eiysey and Ta Eiyso: Ta Eiysey is a master of the prince. Ta Eiyso is a master of the Yeak. They both wear similar clothes and live in a secluded Asrom (house).
|Ta Eiysey||Yeak (female)|
Lakhon Bassac performance by CCD volunteers during Khmer New Year 2014.