Asian Review of Books editor Peter Gordon was named “Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia” (“Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy”) at a ceremony in Hong Kong on 3 June.
The harpsichord may be the quintessential European instrument, each touch of the keys evoking powered wigs and sedan chairs. It never really went global as did the piano or violin. One might not therefore expect someone like Tehran-born Mahan Esfahani to be one of the instrument’s premier modern exponents.
One can make a case for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni being the best opera ever written. There is Mozart’s inimitable music, of course, but also the story, at once irrepressible and and morally-nuanced, perky yet profound. Yet, with two 90-minute acts, it can sometimes drag. But not on this opening night.
Reviewing a world premiere can be a privilege, albeit a somewhat daunting one. This first production of Beauty and Sadness, a new opera by Elena Langer to an English-language libretto by David Pountney, based on the 1975 novel by no less than Nobel Prize-winning Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata, is one of the most significant musical events to take place in Hong Kong in quite some time.
China hasn’t yet gotten much of an outing in western opera. It’s not for lack of material, but the most famous “China opera” nevertheless remains Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot whose relation with the country is tenuous at best. It has only been in this century that operas directly informed by China—and with direct Chinese creative input—have begun to appear on stage with any regularity.
With domestic Hong Kong opera productions leaning almost exclusively to more or less traditional readings of the stalwarts of repertoire, perhaps someone sometimes has to shake things up a bit. This is what the Hong Kong Arts Festival arguably set out to do by having Oper Leipzig bring Calixto Bieito’s unconventional staging of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
Macau’s 2019 was ushered in by a New Year’s Eve concert headlined by Chinese soprano He Hui who sang selections from Italian composers Puccini, Verdi, Catalani and Cilèa.