After years spent building spectacular, state-of-the art opera houses in major metropolises and unheralded backwaters, China is experiencing a boom in Western-style grand opera production, opera education and original opera creation.
“Opera development is like a miniature of the country,” said Chen Zuohuang, music director of the national center (and the conductor of “Xi Shi”). “Too fast and very ambitious.”
The past year alone brought the establishment of an Academy of Opera at Beijing University; the second annual National Center Opera Festival, with 12 different operas performed in 10 weeks; the premiere of Wagner's “Ring” Cycle in Shanghai; the grand opening of the $202 million Guangzhou Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Zaha Hadid; the performance of three operas (Handel's “Semele,” Zhou Long's “Madame White Snake” and Ye Xiaogang's “Song of Farewell”) in just one week at the Beijing Music Festival; and a Sino-European Summit for the Performing Arts that included directors of major European institutions like the Barbican (London), the Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris) and Deutsche Oper Berlin to Beijing to exchange experiences with Chinese counterparts.
A comic-opera festival mounted by the Beijing impresario Li Wei, who has said that he wants “to make Western opera a common art” in China, began just before Christmas, and the national center honored the holiday with a “World Classic Opera Gala,” to be followed by its production of Verdi's “Traviata” (Feb. 13 to 17) and Hao Weiya's “Village Teacher” (March 7 to 9).
Most of the operas now filling China's stages are from the standard romantic repertory, sung in the original languages, often as co-productions with overseas opera houses. Increasingly, however, the productions are created in China and the stories adapted to Chinese settings. “Turandot,” set in a mythical China, is an obvious choice and is now a staple nationwide.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.