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When the mastro met the monk: A tale of two souls

By Shao Xinying | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-17 10:12

When the mastro met the monk: A tale of two souls

Tian Haojiang in Onegin. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chat for any length of time with the bass singer Tian Haojiang, someone who spends much of his life honing his vocal chords, and you are likely to end up being utterly charmed by that powerful, alluring voice.

Indeed it is that voice that has helped turn someone who once used to work as a laborer in a factory in Beijing into a mainstay of the New York Metropolitan Opera and a Chinese star in an international opera firmament dominated by Western singers.

However, last year, more than two decades after Tian first performed at the Met, and after years of being in the thrall of Western operas, big and small, and in various tongues, it was to the east that he cast his eye as he prepared for a role in the Chinese opera Monk Jianzhen Sailing to the East. It tells the tale of the revered holy man's intrepid, and mostly failed, attempts to reach Japan.

The role is perfectly suited to Tian, who in many respects seems to be a latter-day kindred spirit of Jianzhen.

The production by Jiangsu Performing Arts Group premiered in Tokyo on Dec 20 last year, commemorating Jianzhen's ultimate arrival in present-day Kagoshima on that same date in 753AD after five failed attempts to get there.

The opera was later performed in the sacred cities of Nara and Kyoto before it returned home to the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing in February.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of restored diplomatic ties between China and Japan, and Monk Jianzhen Sailing to the East is again due to be staged soon, next month in Tokyo and then Osaka.

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