Opera’s boom in China helps promote cultural exchanges with U.S., says leading American soprano Fleming
Photo: Xinhua/Li Muzi
By Xinhua writers Yang Shilong, Zhang Zhihuan, XinhuaNet
The boom of opera in China has a major role to play in promoting bilateral cultural exchanges with the United States, leading American soprano Renée Fleming has said.
“I’ve been to China several times and every time I come, I’m really thrilled to see the increasing interest in Western classical music, and particularly in the art of song and in the vocal arts,” said Fleming, known affectionately as “the people’s diva” in the United States, in a recent interview with Xinhua.
The opera, though struggling in the West, has witnessed a flourish in recent years in China. More and more grand opera houses and performing centers have shown up in major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and an increasing number of audience members are buying tickets to the opera performances.
“I was amazed when I was singing in Guangzhou and how young the audience was and how many women, young women, were in the audience. So that kind of thing inspires me very much… I’m fascinated to see what people respond to,” said the beloved artist who has earned four Grammy Awards and is viewed as one of the finest sopranos of her generation.
“And I am also seeing the tremendous amount of talent coming out of China and I expect there to be more and more. So I’m anxious and interested in following that,” she said.
“I was amazed when I gave a master class in Shanghai some years ago and a very young man sang for me… only 23 years old, he is already so cultivated really on the highest international level. So that’s what I really love to discover,” she said.
Fleming is currently on her Asian tour which will take her to concerts in Hong Kong, Beijing, Xi’an, Taipei and Seoul. She will also give master classes at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing and Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
Born in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, Fleming has played the heroine role in more than 55 operas, and audiences world wide highly lauded her masterful renderings of works by composers, including Richard Strauss, Mozart and Handel.
Fleming has become a household name in China after she performed together with Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas, Korean-born soprano Jo Su-mi and Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing on Aug. 14, 2008.
She also made appearances at major international events like the Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, and the diamond jubilee concert for Queen Elizabeth II.
“I have found a welcome wherever I sing (in China). And certainly I know we feel the same way. There are great Chinese artist who come here, (and) Americans love (them),” said Fleming.
FASCINATED BY PEKING OPERA
“I think culture is a phenomenal way of getting to know another country … It is historic, it is timeless,” said Fleming.
“So sharing that and really being a cultural ambassador is important to me and it’s something I think is powerful and valuable. And no matter what is happening or what conflicts are going on,” she said.
“So it’s important to continue this. Even in situations where people have wanted to stop cultural sharing, I have really felt that that’s the wrong answer. The right answer is to continue keep the doors open,” she said.
Fleming said she was fortunate to have made friends with many Chinese artists with whom she studied both in Germany and at Juilliard school in New York, “And I maintain those friendships because some of the singers had international careers like Ning Liang.”
“These singers have gone on to become leaders in China, in teaching, running at the great conservatories …it’s been fascinating to watch this entire world of music growing,” she said.
“Of course we have fantastic composers as well. Tan Dun, he’s had such an extraordinary career and I met him pretty early in his period here in the West. And I’ve been absolutely amazed at the talent.”
Fleming said she has never tried the Peking Opera but quite fascinated by the art form after her friend, Shirley Yang, chair of the U.S.-China Cultural Institute, hosted fantastic demonstrations for her in Yang’s home.
“I learned a lot about the art form and about how virtuosic it is and also the tradition is very much like our tradition, only it’s even older. It’s based on so much history and also a very cultivated vocal art exactly like Western classical music,” she said.
“To me this kind of sharing and learning is especially interesting. And that’s the kind of cultural ambassadorship I would love to continue, “she said.
“Yo-Yo Ma is a fantastic example with his Silk Road project. That’s a musical project that brings people together and all along the Silk Road and we also learn about this great history,” she said.