Opera singer Shenyang promotes Western classical music on mainland

Shenyang performs wherever he can to promote Western music on mainland

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 January, 2013, 3:50am

After being discovered in 2007 by opera singer Renee Fleming, winning the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World award and debuting at New York's Metropolitan Opera that same year, bass-baritone superstar Shenyang has set his sights on promoting classical music on the mainland.

"The money to support the future of classical music is in China, but [success] isn't certain," said the hulking 28-year-old Tianjin native, who was Shanghai Symphony Orchestra's artist-in-residence last year.

"The [central] government is building these grand stadiums, giving them millions of yuan to work with each year, but most of them have no idea how to manage a theatre," he said.

The mainland's classical music scene is barely a decade old, as the development of Western musical styles was suppressed during much of the country's tumultuous 20th century, he said.

The singer says only a handful of people are working to promote opera on the mainland, and that includes his friend, Hong Kong's leading tenor and Opera Hong Kong artistic director Warren Mok. These people have been going from theatre to theatre, launching music festivals and performing domestically and internationally.

"China needs more people like [Mok]," he said. "We also need more supporters to help nurture artistic diversity. It's not just about getting government money."

Shenyang, who joined his name, Shen Yang, together to avoid confusing Western audiences, is in Hong Kong to perform at Opera Hong Kong's 10th anniversary gala concert tonight.

He believes the best way he can promote classical music and appreciation of art on the mainland is to perform as much as he can in different places and different formats, such as giving concerts, recitals, lectures, and even writing columns about art.

"I've never felt nervous before a performance. It just comes out naturally," said Shenyang, who attributed his confidence to his parents, both singers who managed to complete their university education at a music conservatory despite having spent years labouring in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

"Many people wanted to get out of the countryside, but they needed a special skill. If you have a good voice and can sing well, you can get out," he said.

"I feel like it is my duty to be a good singer. I can't waste my talent and what my parents have given me."