“Prima la musica” (“The music comes first”) once said opera composer Antonio Salieri (at least in the title to one of his operas). Perhaps as a consequence, opera has provided, once the words are dispensed with, other composers with marvelous opportunities for transcriptions and adaptions.
Lawrence Olivier Award-winning Bangladeshi-English choreographer Akram Khan brought his latest—and last—solo dance production Xenos to Hong Kong on 15 and 16 November. Meaning “stranger” in Greek, Xenos—commissioned by the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary—has haunted global audiences by evoking war images through dance.
Chinese soprano He Hui made her Metropolitan Opera “Live in HD” debut on 9 November in the lead role in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This might not be quite the first time a Chinese singer has the lead in one of these international broadcasts—but then again, it might be—but it is still an extremely rare occurrence and worthy of note.
In Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s 1733 comic opera La Serva Padrona (“The Maid Made Mistress”), a maid sets her sights on her boss, and through a combination of flirtatious behavior and well-meant duplicity, convinces him that he has really loved her all along. The work is small and intimate with a deceptive simplicity that belies the sophistication of the music, allowing a fusion between comic theatre and comic opera.
As part of the new Italia Mia festival and in a joint production of the Italian Cultural Institute and Opera Hong Kong, soprano Wang Bing Bing headlined an instrumental vocal and lyrical recital entitled “Passion of Italy”.
Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto was plagued by politics at its inception. Based on Victor Hugo’s (banned) play Le roi s’amuse, about a licentious king, the opera required considerable negotiation with the imperial Austrian censors before it could be performed in Austrian-controlled Venice. The King was demoted to a Duke, and the action moved to medieval Mantua (whose ducal family, the Gonzagas, had conveniently died out by the 19th century).
Hong Kong’s Musica Viva has incrementally moved from one full opera production per year—in December—to two. If this recent production of Mozart’s comic masterpiece is any indication, the smaller production in late September featuring entirely local singers has, over the past couple of years, matured and is hitting its stride.