The reportedly increasing average age of opera audiences—or the flip-side of a purported lack of appeal to new and younger audiences—is a cause of ongoing angst among opera circles the world over. Regardless of whether the reports of opera’s death may in fact be exaggerated, it is encouraging when someone deliberately sets out to do something about it.
Opera Hong Kong’s recent run of Gioacchino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia was notable for an unusual production which frothily updated the action with a 1930s classical movie musical vibe—complete with the “Hollywood” sign as backdrop and dance routines in various period costumes—and perhaps more significantly for the Asian debut of young American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella, who took the lead role of the ingenue Rosina.
The term “Chinese opera” usually refers to the traditional Chinese art form, but there are an increasing number of examples of modern attempts—such as the recent Dream of the Red Chamber—at a sort of cultural fusion of Chinese themes and traditions with Western operatic style and format. It is probably fair to say that none of these yet rises to the level of a Rigoletto or Carmen in the minds of either the public or critics, but the potential cultural rewards of a Chinese operatic repertoire successfully existing alongside and complementing the European ones are so obvious that is commendable and hardly surprising that the efforts are accelerating.
New operas are not perhaps as rare as sometimes made out to be, but it is nevertheless hard to underestimate the significance of Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber appearing at the Hong Kong Arts Festival so soon after its premiere at the San Francisco opera last Autumn.
The good news is that is Musica Viva’s four-performance run of Carmen was completely sold out.
2016 was not just the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare but also of Miguel de Cervantes, the latter being the occasion for staging a rather unusual concert—at least by the standards of the usually conservative Hong Kong classical music scene—at the City Hall Theatre on 9 November.
An article in the most recent Economist was subtitled “China’s newest export hit is classical music” with a lede about the China Philharmonic Orchestra on tour in New York.
Once, classical music generally travelled from the West to the rest. Now China is reversing the exchange, not merely performing Western classical music in China, but exporting it.
But China has been “exporting” individual performers of demonstrable world-class stature for quite some time: pianists Wang Yujia and Li Yundi and opera singers soprano He Hui and tenor Shi Yijie are just a few Chinese artists in demand worldwide. Hong Kong had the privilege to hear one of the others this weekend, classical guitarist Yang Xuefei, playing Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with the Hong Kong Philharmonic.