Young opera singers from Asia poised to overtake European counterparts, judges at Hong Kong singing contest say

World-class soprano argues that strong will to achieve goals and work hard contributing to rise

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 10:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 10:42am

Young Asian opera singers are poised to overtake their European counterparts, judges of Hong Kong’s first international singing contest have declared.

Sumi Jo, one of the world’s top coloratura sopranos and a jury member at the Hong Kong International Operatic Singing Competition now under way, believed high-quality living standards and a constructive attitude towards hard work put singers from the region on solid footing.

“This is a good era for young Asian artists,” the South Korean diva told the Post ahead of the event’s final round on Monday at City Hall.

Europe was experiencing “severe problems” in its scene, she explained. “People don’t want to have a difficult life ... operatic singing requires tough training and hard work.”

In contrast, Asians tended to have a strong will to achieve goals and work hard for them, Jo said, arguing they would “lead the world of art” as well as many areas in the 21st century. The South Korean soccer team’s recent win over Germany at the World Cup was one example, she added.

Among 24 semi-finalists who performed at the Hong Kong competition over the weekend, 14 were Asians, including seven Koreans and four Chinese. Of the 10 finalists to compete for three grand prizes on Monday evening, six are Asians: three Koreans, two Chinese, and a Filipino. The rest of the sopranos hail from Denmark, England, Norway and Russia.

Jury chairwoman and renowned soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa called the competition “a vibrant and exciting event that brings singers and the community together”.

Jury member Lo King-man, founder of Musica Viva, which organised the contest, took note of the changing landscape.

“The level of singing among Asians has gone up rapidly in recent years, whereas countries with a strong operatic tradition such as Italy and Germany have gradually declined,” said Lo, often referred to locally as the father of Hong Kong’s opera scene.

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But jury member Ella Kiang, who helped vet the 148 competitors in the preliminary rounds, voiced hesitation over claims that Asia would soon lead the world in operatic performance. Nevertheless, the 90-year-old soprano believed artistic differences between the East and West had diminished.

“Many Asians study under teachers who are trained in Europe. Koreans have been going to Italy to train for years,” said Kiang, who studied in Italy in the 1960s and returned to work with Lo in his productions.

Nancy Yuen, the head of vocal studies at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and a jury member of the competition’s preliminary rounds, lamented what she described as local applicants’ lack of skill in presenting their best efforts.

However, tenor Chen Yong, the only Hongkonger to reach the semi-finals, argued local singers faced tight schedules and that more support from the government would help young artists.