Hello everyone! Myra here. Today, we are featuring lovely Auntie Susanna Goho Quek for our Illustrator’s Sketchpad here in GatheringBooks. Perfect for our From Asia with Love bimonthly theme.
This is the first of a 3-part Feature on Auntie Susanna and her creative journeys. This book that you see here, A Night at the Opera, is Auntie Su’s book and has not been published as yet. I am privileged to be given a chance to see the mock-up of the book. This is still a work in progress but allow me to share my excitement as well as Aunty Susanna’s insights and inspirations about this gorgeously illustrated book.
A Night at the Opera
A Night at the Opera is an enchanting tale about an evening filled with infinite possibilities – where people are transformed into a myriad of colours and swirling gleeful mischief as seen through the eyes of young kids filled with awe and quiet marvel. This is a book that will be enjoyed immensely by starry-eyed children and their parents – and their parents before them as it celebrates family and togetherness and the love of wonder.
Aunty Susanna is a kindred – a free spirit whose soul flies free – a luminiscent light hearted being suffused with childlike awe – she is ageless. This book is her legacy. A beautiful gift that will be enjoyed by all children for years and years to come.
Q and A with Auntie Su
I understand that you also come from a family who performed at the opera. Could you share with our readers what the inspiration behind this beautiful book is?
My third brother, who was a Chinese Opera actor passed away, and I had to sort through his possessions, which included things from his acting days. My initial thought was to give them away without looking at them, but after some persuasion from my son we decided to have a look.
The first case we opened had drawers and when I pulled the drawer out, I saw a warrior’s costume, heavily encrusted with silver and magenta sequins. There were matching boots and a silver helmet.
I felt the excitement course through my veins and memories long forgotten came rushing to the surface, the fun we as children, running backstage, trying on makeup, singing and in general being naughty.
The glittering colors, pageantry, loud thumping music, the plaintive strains of the flute and tinkling of bells, and the mystery of make up and costumes. All these memories were my inspiration.
The book also celebrates family, simple pleasures, and lots and lots of children – was it the same for you growing up?
Yes, we lived together as a huge extended family. We were a rambunctious group and ran wild most of the times, climbing trees, plucking fruits, catching fish in deep drains…we did not experience fear. When we were good, PorPor, our grandmother would give us treats. These were simple pleasures that did not cost much, but were based on playfulness, togetherness and shared adventures.
What are some of your unforgettable ‘nights at the opera’ when you were younger?
Quite a few unforgettable scenes really, but a few that have stayed fresh in my memory till today.
The whole theatre was pitch dark and when the cymbals clashed, a figure all lit up with tiny lights on his costume came onto the stage and danced twirling his sword. The whole audience clapped uproariously. After the dance, the lights came on and the audience gave a standing ovation. Only then did we realize it was our brother . Of course we shouted at the top of our voice calling his name until PorPor shushed us up.
When Heong Jie tiptoed onto the stage to the sound of tinkling bells, and she leapt onto a pile of overturned clay pots, we were mesmerized.
A poignant scene that has remained etched in my memory, is of the spotlight shining on a lone figure at the back of the darkened theatre, accompanied by strains of sad music..as he walked up the aisle singing in a soft sad voice..”Ho sum lah, ho sum lah..hor leen yut gor hut yee zai”
(Could you please, could you please, pity a poor beggar boy)
He was dressed in a dirty torn and “bloody” singlet, scruffy pants, was barefoot and holding a beggar bowl. Every one in the audience got up to give him money (it was a performance to raise money for the poor).
Till today whenever I hear this song, I feel sad.
What was the medium you used in creating the artwork for A Night at the Opera?
I play with Acrylic and Water colors, on paper, canvas, silk and wood and whatever I can get my hands on.
This is the first of a 2-part book, if I’m not mistaken? Do tell our readers what they should look out for in the second book?
Book 1 is a simplified introduction to Chinese Opera, aimed at the little ones.
Book 2 has more stories like “The Butterfly Lovers”, the art of make up etc. Basically I want children to know about Chinese Opera and enjoy the grandeur, pomp and pageantry. Also, to understand how loved it was in our culture previously.
I am having it translated into Chinese, Malay, Tamil plus Braille and I have friends waiting in the wings to translate into other languages too.
Looking forward to seeing the actual published book, Auntie Susanna. Congratulations!
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