Hong Kong can be a curious place. Ghost Love is a new Putonghua-language chamber opera, conceived and written locally, receiving what is—insofar as I can tell—its world premier this weekend, and yet, despite a number of attractive posters placed around town, there is hardly any mention of this in the press or online.
Rather than mounting a second production, Hong Kong’s newest opera company, “More than Musical”, decided to reprise La Traviata, first shown here in June. This was probably a wise decision, artistically and logistically; after all, due to the deliberately small size of the spaces that the company uses for intimacy, only a few hundred people—fewer in total than fit in even one of Hong Kong’s smaller traditional venues—saw it last time. The performances themselves benefited from what was in effect a longer run of six, rather than just three, outings.
Nicholas Gordon talks to Chinese operatic soprano Lei Xu, who is singing Violetta in More Than Musical’s production of La Traviata.
A selection of photos from Musica Viva’s “La Bohème”, December 2017.
Musica Viva’s current production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème is a vivid justification for Hong Kong’s support of two opera companies. Different strategies yield different outcomes, to the great advantage of Hong Kong’s cultural scene. Musica Viva’s use of, in general, younger singers (“young” in opera being a relative term) and Director-General Kingman Lo’s focus on ensemble singing, lead to performances that are accessible and immediate.
This November in New York has featured three different versions of the Madame Butterfly story on stage: the original at the Metropolitan Opera, a revival of the David Henry Hwang play M. Butterfly and a revival of the musical Miss Saigon. Of these, I managed Hwang and Puccini back-to-back.
Why do people still sit spellbound through works of musical theatre that are dozens of decades old, written in and about times that have long passed from living memory? There is of course the music and the wonder of the unamplified voice, but opera is also, critically, about the story. There is love, passion, betrayal, pathos, death, hope. There is tension combined with, frequently, impossible choices. Our heroines are asked to choose between their families and their hearts, between a duty to country and a duty to themselves. Opera often poses universal questions—universal because there are no answers—and in that universalità there is unity.