News and Views on Tibet

Opinion: My lifelong tryst with opera

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Artists of TIPA performing the lore of Chogyal Norsang at the 25th Shoton Festival in Dharamshala in April 2022 (Photo:Tenzin Jigme Taydeh/

By Tsering Youdon

I was 9 years old When I had my first lead role in Tibetan Opera festival with Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. It wasn’t the success of my debut performance that sparked my interest in Tibetan Opera, but rather the many Tibetan Opera Shows I attended as a young audience with my mother. Although I did not comprehend the full regalia of the art at that time, everything about it was fascinating. With time, I became a Tibetan Opera enthusiast and performer. 

Tibetan Opera festival in Dharmsala, India took a great leap in 1993 When TIPA hosted other Tibetan Opera troupes in India to participate in the festival. With the inclusion of other Tibetan Opera Troupes in the Festival, the preservation and promotion of Tibetan Opera kicked off in a large scale. It was wonderful seeing other Tibetan Opera troupes perform for the first time. There was so much we were learning from each other and I was mesmerized hearing 70-80 year old Tibetan Opera masters. It was an exciting beginning and that one great leap took us to where we are today. 

On the morning of March 30th 2022, I took the 15:30hour flight and 9 hour train ride to Dharamsala, India from San Francisco USA, to participate in the 25th Tibetan Opera Festival with Chaksampa (Tibetan dance and Opera  company) from USA. It is after two decades, I was back on stage to perform in the Tibetan Opera Festival which began on April 6th and lasted till 13th April 2022. During the two full days of rehearsal for the festival it conjured all sorts of emotions inside of me. My colleagues devoured nostalgia and sang their lungs out in practice whereas I stood very nervous of my shortcomings. My reservations stemming from a severe tonsillitis decades ago that damaged my vocal chords. 

A day before the commencement of the 25th Tibetan Opera festival, all Eight attending  troupes rehearsed together for the opening ceremony. Among the different Opera troupes, some familiar faces are now the elders of the troupe, who despite their slowed gait, weakened knee, and crackling voices, performed with the youngsters to inspire. The youths of the Tibetan Opera Troupe showed great strength, interest and capabilities. Watching them perform together, I was certain this unique culture and tradition of Tibet would not wither.

The week long Tibetan Opera Festival consist of local audiences, Opera enthusiasts, tourists and students from Tibetan Schools. The rhythm at which the audiences enjoyed the Opera had not changed. The audiences broke into tears, laughed at the satire and halted in unison for the entrance of each new character on stage. There are sharing of snacks among audiences and family picnics during the lunch break. I couldn’t help but think of the times my mother brought me to the Opera shows, explained the tradition and story lines with much zeal. I also thought of how she beamed with pride on the day I took on the stage for my debut performance in the Tibetan Opera Festival. This time I didn’t have a lead role to play in this 25th Tibetan Opera Opera Festival but my role in the preservation and promotion of Tibetan Opera remains the greatest part for me to play. 

(Views expressed are her own)

The author is a graduate artist of Tibetan Institute of performing Arts, India having studied Tibetan traditional Performing Arts, music and Opera for over 15years. A song writer also, her song titled, Tibetan Drinking song” is one of her most well-known singles. She is currently based in San Francisco, USA.

4 Responses

  1. This is a great reflection of someone I know dearly, who has served TIPA for many years and now promoting efficiently Tibetan culture and dance through social media. I always see something “different” in her approach. If you don’t believe, watch this:

    One thing for sure to mention though is the recently concluded 25th Anniversary of Shoton Festival is the presence of Chaksampa, different from the divine madman is the classical secular theatre group, coincidentally in the place of Iron-bridge known as Golden gate. Above all, the festival brought back glimpses of H.H. the Dalai Lama at the Tsuglakhang. True to your words – it does evoke nostalgia for all and for H.H., as he admits – the feeling of his childhood in Lhasa. Maybe that’s why I hear the connection of Lhamoe Latsho – Lhamo Dhondup – Lhamo Opera…

    Braving the pandemic and journey to India, you all have brought our memory of working on another hilltop along TIPA for many years. Great job Youdon!

  2. Every single word that author wrote has touched me deeply even though I am not a Tipa artist or have much knowledge on Operas but a great admiration and a bit of an enthusiast too. I find it well written and it refreshed my memories where I would be sitting with my mother with other spectators.. pretty much all day long. I remember it’s whole day long event and we all look forward for it. This year’s 25th Shoton, I am not physically there to watch but thanks to new technology that I was able to watch it on small screen from home and thanks to those who made it possible and thanks to all the organizers and performers. My sincere appreciation and deep respect to all artists who work so hard to keep our culture and traditions alive through these great Operas and Tibetan dance and songs. Thanks once again.

  3. When amateur In other words halftime job performed there is always excuse & velues by speaking of preservation & enthusiasm it works in our society even in official. If we carry on this unsteady which is contagious for our future generation unless our society is in complete Buddhist thinking of emptiness shunyata !

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