For 500 years, the colossus that is opera has stood astride the worlds of song, dance, music, drama and design. But concert halls have learned a bitter lesson: it’s a tough sell. Prohibitive costs and dwindling audiences have had art lovers scrambling for new ideas, namely blending the West’s seasoned performers and orchestral styles with the East’s ancient stories and deep theatrical pockets.
This month, Chinese operatic bass Hao Jiang Tian’s visionary programme I Sing Beijing (ISB), returns for its second year, with 20 Western-trained singers from six countries giving a gala concert in Mandarin.
But language lessons are only the beginning. Joined by six local singers, ISB participants spend five weeks studying diction and acting with Met coaches, learning lyrical Chinese and meeting China’s operatic inner circle. ‘I believe that Mandarin as a new lyric language will join the other singing languages of the global vocal arts,’ says Tian (pictured below, on the right), best known for being the first Chinese singer to perform at the Met.
Clearly, his experiment was a success; in the past year, members of the 2011 ISB alumni have launched a vocal academy, won a Grammy Award and given countless hometown concerts of Mandarin music, as well as opening Changsha’s 11th Annual Chinese Language Competition. Two Chinese singers won plaudits in the prestigious 2012 Operalia Competition; baritone Yunpeng Wang took home multiple prizes and soprano Guan Yu is on her way to the Met.
‘I am sure that audiences will enjoy listening to beautiful contemporary Chinese opera excerpts sung in Mandarin by Western singers,’ says Tian. ‘Someday I would love to see a contemporary Chinese opera with a completely foreign cast,’ he adds. ‘Why not?’ Why not indeed.
I Sing Beijing Gala Concert Details
Date Tue 28 Aug 2012
National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA中国国家大剧院) Details
Open: Theatres open daily. Exhibition area open 9am-5pm, daily.
Telephone: 6655 0000
English address: 2 Xi Chang'an Jie, Xicheng district
Chinese address: 西城区长安街2号