Live performances a 'lonely road' for legendary Tan Te singer Gong Linna

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 December, 2014, 5:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 December, 2014, 5:03am

A German-Chinese couple said they walked a "lonely road" in search of China's true musical soul amid a culture that condones lip-syncing in live shows.

Beijing-based German composer Robert Zollitsch, better known as Lao Luo, has partnered with his soprano wife Gong Linna in introducing China to a new form of singing that is original, live, and genuine.

The pair gained national fame when their scat-singing composition, Tan Te, went viral after Gong sang it at the 2010 Beijing New Year's concert. Pop singers such as Faye Wong have tried to cover it, posting their mixed results to Weibo.

"We are artists and can't accept the use of pre-recorded voiceover for lip-syncing on stage because that's cheating," said the 39-year old diva Gong, prior to two concerts featuring her husband's compositions today and tomorrow at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

The Guiyang native, who started singing at age five, said she was inspired by first lady Peng Liyuan's graduation recital in the 1980s. She said fake singing has become rampant with the rise of prime-time television singing shows since 2000.

Fake singing gave rise to a host of non-musical stage antics, such as dancing, fashion and exaggerated facial expressions, she said, and those antics influenced Chinese audiences' appreciation of music performance.

"That's why we insist on singing live with a real band on stage," Munich-born composer Zollitsch said in fluent Putonghua. "But then that would greatly increase the production cost of a television programme which is budgeted for just a star singer, makeup staff, and an assistant. So doing it our way would mean more work and less profit."

He said Chinese sound engineers were even forgetting how to produce real, live vocal performances with no recorded track.

For Gong, the tipping point was one concert 12 years ago.

"I quit my lead singer job with the Central Chinese Orchestra in 2002 because I saw no future with my art," she recalled.

"It was after a public performance in southern China where I did the usual lip-synching. But I forgot the lyrics and so I put my lips close to the microphone so that audience would not see it. There I moved my lips on the beat, one, two, three, four, and pretended singing.

"From the stage, I could see all those eager eyes admiring this Beijing star, but I felt they were like piercing knives slaying me, and I had to keep smiling. I could take it no more and so I quit," she said.

The couple met shortly after and have taken their own path.

"It is a lonely road to walk but we have each other, and our two sons, too," they said.