Huayi 2014 – Chinese Opera Stars in Singapore

SingaporeSingapore Chinese Opera Stars Perform: Bizet, Gounod, Huang Zi, Li Quinzhu, Mozart, Ordway, Puccini, Qing Zhu, Qu Cong, Rossini, Stolz, Verdi and Zhao Yuanren -Esplanade Concert Hall, Singpore, 7.2.2014 (RP)

Yu Guanqun (soprano)
Zhu Huiling (mezzo soprano)
Shenyang (bass-baritone)
Shane Thio (piano)
Huang Zi – Homesickness
Rossini – Anzoleta avanti la regata from La regata veneziana
Huang Zi – Yearning for My Love
Mozart – Come scolglio immoto resta from Cosi fan tutte, K. 588
Mozart – Madamina, il catalogo è questo from Don Giovanni, K.527
Qing Zhu – The Mighty River Flows East
Mozart – Soave sia il vento from Cosi fan Tutte, K. 588
Qu Cong – I Love You China
Zhao Yuanren – How Could I Not Miss Her
Gounod – Vous qui faites l’endormie from Faust
Li Quinzhu – I Live By the Headwaters of Yangtze River
Verdi – Tacea la notte placida from Il Trovatore
Bizet – Les tringles des sistres tintaient from Carmen
Stolz – Spiel auf deiner Geige from Venus in Seide
Ordway – Farewell
Puccini – Nessun Dorma from Turandot


The Huayi -Chinese Festival of Arts is part of the annual Lunar New Year celebration in Singapore. Since 2003, Huayi has brought Chinese artists of all genres, from traditional to contemporary, mainstream or cutting-edge to Singaporean audiences. The annual Voices of Brilliance concert showcases Chinese opera singers. This year’s format could not have been simpler – three singers and a piano player. Opera arias and ensembles were intertwined with Chinese songs, some in a popular vein, others more rooted in the Western classical art song tradition.

 Billed as rising stars, all three singers are active on the international scene and their stories are well known. Bass-baritone Shenyang’s promise was spotted by Renée Fleming at a master class in Shanghai and he went on to become the youngest singer to win the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2007. Yu Guangun’s 2012 Metropolitan Opera debut was the stuff of which dreams are made. She stepped in at the last moment to sing Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore and emerged a star. Mezzo Zhu Huiling’s rising career was derailed by her finance, tenor Salvatore Licitra’s tragic and untimely death in 2011. Fortunately, it is back on track.

 Shenyang is a remarkable singer. The voice is simply beautiful. His phrasing is elegant. Every word that he sings is crystal clear. He is a very thoughtful singer. You sense a fine musical intelligence at work. Not a natural comedian, he nonetheless charmed the audience in Leporello’s aria from Don Giovanni, and was appropriately sardonic in Mèphistophélès’ serenade from Faust. He was the audience’s clear favorite.

 Yu Guangun has the making of a true Verdi soprano. Her coloratura in Tacea la notte placida from Il Trovatore was impressive, propelling the aria and the drama forward. Surprisingly, her first aria did not make the same impact. Come scoglio from Cosi fan Tutte is a technical and dramatic challenge with its leaps and two-octave range. Both extremes were a bit shaky for Yu at times. The coloratura used to so great a dramatic effect in the Verdi, fell a bit flat towards the end of the Mozart, perhaps because the tempo lagged at just that moment.

 Elegant in black, Zhu Huiling cut a glamorous figure. Watching her sing the Gypsy Song from Carmen brought to mind the old photographs of those haute couture gypsy girls, Rosa Ponselle and Gladys Swarthout.  She has the looks, the style and the voice, but why those very dark la, la la’s? There are a lot of them in that aria and they just sounded wrong. Her Rossini left little impression, due in part to unintelligible Italian. What a difference when she got to the Stolz. She sang with panache and her German diction was immaculate. Every word was understood in the back of the house.

 I do not speak Mandarin and am no student of Chinese song. The vocal and dramatic high point for me was The Mighty River Flows East. The others were melodic and sentimental for the most part. The singers’ commitment to them was obvious. It was interesting to learn that Farewell, although sung in Chinese, is the work of an American, John Pond Ordway. It was a popular Civil War ballad in its day, but lives on as a popular song in China and Japan.

 The trio gamely ended the program with Nessun Dorma. Alternating vocal lines, they sang it straight with no gimmicks. Yu Guangun clearly relished the opportunity to soar on the aria’s climaxes. Who can blame her?

 Singaporean pianist, Shane Thio was the able, if self-effacing accompanist. He joined the singers in tossing their flowers into the audience.

 The two encores were a study in contrasts. The ladies teamed up for Rossini’s Duetto buffo di due gatti. Shenyang stood passively in between them as the straight man for one of the funniest performances of this piece that I have ever seen. Yu Guangun’s meows were hilarious. The singers returned sans accompanist to sing a folk song from Inner Mongolia, Mu Ge as arranged by Huang Ruo. It was a simple and haunting conclusion to a varied evening of song.

 Rick Perdian