Yiu: Making it in opera in New York is not easy

Updated: 2015-07-20 10:46

By Niu Yue in New York(China Daily USA)

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More and more Asian faces are appearing in opera auditions - large and small - all across the Big Apple.

Among them, 35-year-old Revan Yun-Kwan Yiu, seems to have a good foothold, having already appeared in several productions.

"He possesses a dominant presence on stage with a good sense of appearance and has great diction in all the languages that were spoken and sung," conductor Yoon Jae Lee wrote on his blog after attending a recital in May entitled A Case of Hong Kong Musicians at the National Opera Center in New York City, which mainly featured Yiu.

Members of the audience like Lee, who get a chance to see Yiu perform, rarely guess that the baritone with a "fine British accent at his best showing off his lyricism and fine upper baritone range" is a Hong Kong native and didn't start operatic training until his late twenties.

After graduating from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2001 as an English major, Yiu was hired as an English teacher by the Wah Yan College, Kowloon, one of the most prestigious boys' schools in Hong Kong.

Because of Yiu's talent on the violin, which he had played for more than 10 years, he was also put to work directing the school choir.

After five years of the teaching routine, Yiu quit.

Yiu: Making it in opera in New York is not easy

"In the course of my teaching job, I found that the one thing I couldn't do without was music," Yiu said.

Yiu's parents were supportive of his decision to change careers in his late 20s.

"My parents understood what I was going through," he said. "They only said that I had to be prepared for not having a very stable income and I was prepared for that. There were some difficult times, of course, but at the same time it's more fulfilling on the spiritual side."

In 2009, Yiu enrolled at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA), one of the leading institutes in Asia, to get formal theatrical training.

While at HKAPA, Yiu was chosen by Opera Hong Kong to perform in a production of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

The more performances he did, the more Yiu began to make a name for himself in Hong Kong's opera circle.

In 2012, Yiu graduated from the HKAPA with a Bachelor of Music in Voice.

Setting his sights on a mainstream career in opera, Yiu applied to the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned of Master's.

"Probably that's where fate told me to go," said Yiu. "I found in order to develop a career, you need not only technique, but also the connections. You need to let the right people get to know you and let them hear you."

A New Yorker for three years now, Yiu enjoys the life in the city. "I like the number of parks here, and there are so many different activities you can just go into for free."

"Except the weather here is too cold compared to the tropical climate of Hong Kong," he joked.

Yiu said learning opera in New York is a really eye-opening experience.

"In Hong Kong the training is more formally systematic. The department is small, so is the 'circle'. So you don't get many experiences or exposure to the really professional side of it. But here, you get more real experiences, more people to learn from," Yiu said.

After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music in May of last year, Yiu soon got a chance to work with the Manhattan Opera Studio, singing the major role of Count Almaviva in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. In January this year, he was invited by the Opera Upper West to play the same role again.

In May, Yiu joined the Vocal Productions NYC acting Hermann and Schemil in French composer Jacques Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann.

"I read something about being an artist, which I find to be very true: 'If you are going to give up in the end, then you are not an artist from day one'," Yiu said.

"That was a quite wake-up call for me because whenever we face difficulties or failures we want to give up and we would think maybe there is a more stable life somewhere. But if you're really after it, you don't do that," Yiu added.

Hong Xiao in New York contributed to this story.