Yen Nguyen

Vietnamese Opera (Cải lương)

Yen Nguyen was born in Sai Gon, Vietnam. From a tender age, she was exposed to the traditional art form of Cải lương (Vietnamese Opera) by her parents. As she got older and mastered the art form, she bfollowed her parent’s footsteps and began to teach at the Quoc Gia Am Nhac school in Vietnam. After immigrating to California, Yen Nguyen founded the musical group, Echo of the Motherland, a collective that shares the cultural and artistic traditions of the zither to the Vietnamese community in Sacramento, California. Upon reflecting on the historical legacy and cultural importance of Cải lương, Nguyen describes how it “has endured tremendous crises in our centuries-long journey. For Vietnamese in the US, this journey has included the challenges of the refugee and resettlement experience over the past 45 years. Moreover, this journey is an open-ended history for which we need our opera to carry us forward.”

Apprenticeship Program


As Yen hopes to keep the art form of Cải lương alive by teaching it to the future generations, she will be working with Khoi Truong in passing down melodies and roles that are foundational to the traditional art form. Cải lương originated in Southern Vietnam in the early 20th century and blossomed in the 1930s as a theatre of the middle class during the country’s French colonial period. Cải lương can be described as a theater work featuring the use of “Vọng cổ” (stylized singing evoking “nostalgia for the past”). In these works, the actresses and actors use a combination of regular spoken dialogue and “vọng cổ” to tell the story and express the characters thoughts and emotions. Koi recognizes that she is part of a needed link between her elders and the upcoming generations.

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