Upclose: Raymond Fu, Opera Society Chairman
Raymond Fu is the chairman of the Opera Society of Hong Kong. For “Opera Passion III,” he’s bringing three Italian opera stars to Hong Kong to give masterclasses and a concert to the public. He tells Adrienne Chum about his hopes for opera in the SAR.
HK Magazine: How did you get into opera?
Raymond Fu: I was born into a non-musical family. In primary school, my voice broke very early, so when we had a singing test in primary six everyone was still singing in treble while I was already singing in a tenor voice. I got a lot of positive reinforcement, so I sang more. I later became a choir leader even though I had never done that sort of thing. In my second year we won a prize. At that moment I thought: “Maybe this could be a possible career path.”
HK: Why don’t we have an official opera company in Hong Kong?
RF: We actually had the Hong Kong Chorus in the 80s. We had [conductor] Henry Shek as the director, and I was the chorus master. It was a semi-professional group, and we even had an office at the LCSD. In one year we’d have about eight, 10 concerts, and we became an opera company. Then there was a financial crisis, and the government didn’t have money to support all the arts groups. The Hong Kong Chorus was the newest, so it was the first to go. I was out of the country and the director, Mr. Shek, was flying back and forth between America and Hong Kong, and some council members thought he wasn’t serious about the Chorus. The group was put on hold—but of course that means it’s gone; if I had kept on with the group instead of leaving the country to study, maybe it could have kept going. But now Mr. Shek does his own thing with the Chorus, separately from the government. 30 years later, we haven’t been able to get it back.
HK: So what’s the opera scene like now?
RF: [Former HKAPA director] Lo King-man was the one who had the guts to produce the first opera in Hong Kong. He produces almost all of the operas in the city. All over the world, opera depends on government funding and corporate sponsorship. Hongkongers do have an interest in watching opera, but we need sponsorship; you can’t depend on selling tickets alone. Also, there aren’t a lot of theatres that can host operas, since the production size of an opera is so big. In one year we can get about 10 operas, but they’re scattered around the year. There’s no focal point for an opera season right now: It’s too irregular to grab people’s attention.
HK: You’re holding public masterclasses for successful applicants. What’s the standard like?
RF: This is the first time we’ve ever tried this, but the quality of the singers was very high: Most of them are music graduates, music students, semi-amateurs or vocal teachers. We even have a 12-year-old junior student from the APA. Only the singers serious about learning applied, and most of them have sung in professional settings before. After all, you are standing on a stage to be critiqued!
See Chiara Angella (mezzo-soprano), Davide Piaggio (tenor), Silvio Zanon (baritone) and masterclass students perform at Opera Passion III. Sep 14, 8pm at City Hall Concert Hall, 5 Edinburgh Place, Central. $100-500 from www.urbtix.hk.