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Norbu Tsering, Longtime Tibetan Opera Master and Pioneer, Dies at 86

Opera master Norbu Tsering
86-year-old Norbu Tsering, a longtime Tibetan opera master and a pioneer in re-establishing Tibetan folk opera in exile died Thursday after a prolonged illness at the Delek Hospital in Dharamsala.

Opera master Tsering taught at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in Dharamsala for more than 40 years during which he trained many young Tibetan artists in folk opera.

Lobsang Samten, artistic director at TIPA who studied under Tsering told VOA Tibetan that the TIPA community members are deeply mourning the demise of their longtime opera master.

“Passing of Gen Norbu Tsering la is not only a loss for our TIPA community, but also a great loss and sadness for all Tibetans…He has taught about 13 to 14 forms of opera at TIPA and we will honor his dedication and hard work through continuation of our lhamo performances” said Samten.

Norbu Tsering was a professional opera performer in Lhasa during his youth. After his escape from Tibet into India in 1961, Norbu Tsering taught at the newly formed opera company in Kalimpong. In 1965, he joined the Tibetan Dance and Drama Society in Dharamsala, now known as the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, where he taught until 1996 and continued to guide TIPA instructors and students in Tibetan opera after his retirement.

In 2003, Norbu Tsering was awarded the lifetime achievement award for his 40 years of “sincere dedication in teaching the Tibetan Lhamo Opera” by the organizers of the first Tibetan Music Awards.

Popular among elder Tibetans, traditional Tibetan folk opera is performed through a unique combination of dialogue, dance, chants and songs generally depicting Buddhist messages of karma, love, devotion, good and evil. TIPA in the past six decades has made strides in renewal and promotion of this traditional Tibetan opera. However, younger opera masters raise concerns about the diminishing prospects of traditional Tibetan opera with continuing loss of older Tibetans knowledgeable of Tibetan opera.