Friday, May 24, 2013

Letter from Beijing

While Seattle Opera was having what looks like it must have been a fantastic Wagner's birthday party, I (Jonathan Dean, Seattle Opera's Director of Public Programs and Media) and Kelly Tweeddale (Executive Director) have been having an extraordinary week here in Beijing. We are here as guests of the NCPA, the biggest opera house in China, for the 5th Eorld Theatre Forum. Representatives from opera houses in Italy, Germany, Belgium, England, Poland, Hungary, Finland, Oman, Australia, the US, and several important theaters in China (including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chongqing, and Wuhan) all gathered here this week, to enjoy a wonderful performance of Nabucco at the NCPA and to participate in several day-long discussions of such issues as the training of young opera artists, the worldwide celebrations of the Verdi and Wagner bicentennials, and the challenges and opportunities facing the opera industry in China.

The fantastic Plácido Domingo made his NCPA debut as Nabucco, a thrilling performance he will sing again later this summer in Verona. He was joined by an all-Chinese cast, including the wonderful bass Liang Li as Zaccaria, Sun Xiuwei as Abigaille, Yang Guang as Fenena, and Jin Zhengjian as Ismaele. Eugene Kohn conducted the chorus and orchestra of the NCPA. Their "Va, pensiero" was particularly moving. The production, by Gilbert Deflo, exploited the great technical capacities of the theater, and I particularly enjoyed the projections, by Sergio Metalli, which told the story of the arrogant Babylonian king's hubris and the vengeance of Jehovah. It was Domingo's genius to make us still care for this crazy old man.

In addition to the fascinating discussions we've been having with the remarkable people who have gathered in Beijing, Kelly and I have managed to squeeze in a little sight-seeing. Here I am, with a new friend I met in Behai Park, a beautiful area north of the Forbidden City.

And here's Kelly, about to enter the wild market street of Wangfujing.

She's been a terrific tour guide, as it's my first time in China and her third year participating in the World Theatre Forum. She also had the opportunity to travel to Ulaanbataar, Mongolia, in 2009 as part of a cultural exchange program. Music crosses every border!

Many thanks to Ma Wenjie of the NCPA, who helped arrange our visits to China, and who has been translating for us, along with the expert staff of the NCPA.

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