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).
That He Hui chose to open her concert, part of a 20th career anniversary tour of China, with Adriana Lecouvreur’s first act aria from Francesco Cilèa’s eponymous opera says everything one needs to know about this Chinese soprano’s attitude towards her art.
Opera travels well. Its stories are the stories of our collective humanity—love, loss, revenge, strife, rebellion, rejuvenation, absurdity, tragedy—and its archetypes not only define cultures but also connect them. In many respects, we can no longer speak in essentializing ways about Western opera or Chinese opera, but rather must address the world of opera and global operatic voices.
Arguably the most successful Western opera singer to come out of China, soprano He Hui is known for her roles in Madama Butterfly, Tosca and Aida.
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.
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.