Mariinsky Theater raised the curtain of the opera house of China's National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) last December and the Theater of the Capital of Toulouse will wrap up the opening season of the "Egg Shell" in April. But which is the home company that now holds court at the splendid new theater? Could it be the Central Opera Theater of China? No. It is the Shanghai Opera House.
From today until April 3, Shanghai Opera House will perform 12 shows of four productions, making it the Chinese company that performs most shows during the opening season of the "Egg Shell".
"It is the first time that the entire Shanghai Opera House has toured Beijing since it was established in 1956," says Zhang Guoyong, president and artistic director of Shanghai Opera House. "I mean, our singers, chorus and orchestra had performed here respectively but this time we come together to showcase the talent and ability of the entire company."
To achieve this goal, Zhang chose the Italian classic Otello, the Chinese opera The Thunderstorm, Haydn's arias and choruses Die Jahreszeiten as well as a new Turandot commissioned by NCPA and Casa Ricordi, the music publishing company that owns the rights to Puccini's score.
"Verdi's Otello is one of the most challenging classic operas. It tests the ability of both the tenor and the chorus. Wei Song is a fantastic tenor and he performs an impressive tragic hero both with his voice and his action," says director Maurizio di Mattia from Rome Opera House.
"I enjoy working with Shanghai Opera House. It is the only opera house in China that runs in the same way we do in Europe," says Mattia who has worked with many opera houses in China, Japan and South Korea.
His bond with Shanghai Opera House started in 2002 when he directed Boheme for the company. He was then invited back to work on Otello in 2004 and Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci in 2007. His version of Otello was so acclaimed that Zhang invited him back to revive the opera for the 2007/08 season. It will be performed at NCPA today and tomorrow.
On Friday and Saturday, Shanghai Opera House will perform the Chinese opera The Thunderstorm composed by Mo Fan. Adapted from Cao Yu's drama of the same title, the opera follows the complicated relationships between the members and servants of a large well-off family and the family's disintegration as a result of corruption in old China.
Shanghai Opera House commissioned composer Mo in 2000 and premiered the concert version of the opera in 2001. They finally produced it into a full-length opera in 2006 and won an award at the China National Arts Festival last November.
Composer Mo blends melodies popular in 1930s' China into his score and uses the traditional Chinese instruments erhu and pipa to highlight the themes of the two leading female roles.
"Reviving the classic works and producing new Chinese operas are always the two goals of Shanghai Opera House," says Zhang.
"Though opera has a limited audience in China and our performances are greatly challenged by all kinds of modern entertainment, we try out best to improve our shows to promote the genre in the country."
The 50-year-old Zhang resigned from the position of dean of the Conducting Department of Shanghai Conservatory of Music to take the post of the president and artistic director of Shanghai Opera House in 2001. Since then, he has led the company to become the best opera house in China.
In each regular season from September to July, the company produces four to five new Chinese operas, revives three Western classic works, performs dozens of concerts and organizes opera salons to attract a young audience. It also collaborates with international artists on new productions, invites them to give master classes and tours abroad.