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IN CONVERSATION with Huang Ying and Joshua Wickerham

one of the world’s most promising operatic artists returns to Shanghai in Handel’s Messiah

by Joshua Wickerham for that’s Shanghai, September 2006

Last year, Shanghai-born Ying Huang (known to Chinese fans as Huang Ying) performed the soprano solo in the Chinese mainland premiere of Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah. In many ways, it was a landmark event in the history of Chinese exposure to Western music. Maestro John Nelson, conductor of L’ Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, led four soloists–Ying Huang, Warren Mok, Tian Haojiang and Liang Ning–and three choirs, in a performance that can only be described as deeply spiritual.

Though a large part of the audience was unfamiliar with choral music, the spirit of the sacred works did not require translation. Indeed, the experience was described by one member of the audience as “moving” another said she was “transported¬Ě.” This year organizers from the Committee of 100 Cultural Institute hope to build on that success with Messiah, featuring Huang, and counter-tenor Larry Zazzo (the first counter-tenor to perform in China, and one that organizer Shirley Young says should be “a real treat”). The appearance of Zazzo and Huang will follow their debut this year at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

We spoke with Huang Ying in Rome, where she has been brushing up on her Italian after touring Japan, Germany, Canada and the US. She seemed intoxicated with the Italian spirit, rolling her Rs with great aplomb.

that’s: It seems you find Rome very agreeable.

Ying Huang: Very hot, wonderful. I’m learning Italian here, actually taking classes. For my work I need to understand the culture, not just the language. How’s Shanghai?

Huang Ying and your narrator in NYCthat’s: It’s hot here, too. And wonderful. Let’s talk about performing Elijah in Shanghai last year.

YH: Did you see it? Did you like the performance?

that’s: It was an amazing performance of spiritual music. I think it was a life changing event for many in the audience who had never heard or seen Western choral music performed live. What did it mean for you to bring such a famous work to your hometown for the first time?

YH: I accepted the engagement for a number of reasons. First, I was very happy to sing in Shanghai, my home. I always want to do more things for my country, for Chinese audiences. I was also excited to work with Maestro John Nelson, not only because he’s very famous, but because he’s an expert in this early music, especially choral music. It was a very precious opportunity; he is wonderful in every way, his musicianship, his humanity. Also, Elijah was a significant event in China. It lifted our culture and brought with it a higher standard for music interpretation.

that’s: Nelson has said that composers like Bach, Mozart, Handel and others put their souls into their choral works and operas. How does it feel to sing music that meant so much to these great composers?

YH: I have been studying more of the early music, like Handel and Mozart. I like the style of this music and want to perform it with authenticity. The four operas that suit me best are The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte. In the West, for the last ten years, I’ve sung these operas very often. I am trying to push the characteristics not only of the language and music, but of philosophy and culture as well. I like concentrating on Handel. His works fit my personality and spirituality. I’m happy to bring this music back to the Shanghai Opera House.

that’s: Have you sung any of these four operas in China?

YH: No, we’ve never really pinned down the dates. The good thing is that I am going to sing again in China very soon and hopefully do it more and more. Meanwhile, another good thing is that this year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, so everyone is talking about him and listening to his music.

that’s: Are you excited about your debut at the Met?

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