Classical music

Top Hong Kong soprano Louise Kwong laments lack of funding for classical singers

Lack of subsidies meant prize-winning singer had to take on teaching jobs to make ends meet

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 9:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 10:32am

Hong Kong lacks a regular platform for classical singers who have to depend on teaching to make ends meet when not performing, a local top soprano says.

Louise Kwong Lai-ling, who beat 160 contestants to take the best soprano prize at the 18th Ferruccio Tagliavini International Competition in Vienna in 2012, was happy with the opportunity to perform since returning to her home city four years ago but had to make do with teaching on days when not performing.

Soprano makes history with three wins in Austria

“Teaching constitutes more than half of my income and 100 per cent when there’s no performance,” the Hong Kong-born diva told the Post before departing for a young artist programme at the Rome Opera House for 19 months starting this month.

“Instrumentalists enjoy support as members of orchestras, but we singers have no such professional bodies for support.”

Kwong said the government subsidy for vocal arts “looks imbalanced” compared with annual funding of more than HK$100 million (US$12.8 million) for three professional orchestras.

“For an opera company to support year-round performances, say a production in each quarter, it would require a proper venue and stable funding, but Hong Kong is short of both,” she said.

Watch: Louise Kwong and Tapiola Sinfonietta performing Mozart Arias

The 30-year-old soprano, who studied in London and Amsterdam, placed some hope in the new local chamber opera genre in which she sang the leading role in Heart of Coral and Datong in 2013 and 2015 respectively. A replay of the latter took her to London last year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong returning to Chinese sovereignty. Her latest role, in Ghost Love, premieres at the City Hall Theatre on Friday through Sunday.

“These three operas, sung in Chinese in Western classical music style with a small orchestra, are original compositions by professor Chan Hing-yan, it’s economical and I’m sure there’s a lot of space for other local composers to write for voices,” she said.

Dream idea takes a special ride on time machine

Kwong believed such original local productions would go against the prevailing practice of giving preference to Western singers over Asians.

“It’s understandable for the operatic industry to prefer Western performers over Asians who are generally preconceived as being stiff or poor in stage acting,” she said.

Watch: Louise Kwong on her music upbringing and Western operatic singers versus Asians

She hoped her work in Rome, where she prevailed over some 350 candidates, would make a difference.

“I want to develop a stronger stage personality and a better singing technique with character.”

Kwong did not mind that local presenters were less engaging than in Beijing where she will make her debut in Romeo and Juliet and Don Giovanni at the National Centre for Performing Arts next year.

“In the singing industry we are at the disposal of presenters who make their picks based on considerations from artistic merit to ticket sales. We have no control over any of this and all we can do is to reflect and improve,” she said.