Beijing artist gives back to opera

Updated: 2015-03-23 11:13

By Niu Yue in New York(China Daily USA)

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 Beijing artist gives back to opera

Haojiang Tian and members of the iSING!InternationalYoung Artists Festival sing at the eventFrom Beijing to the Met: A Singing Journey of Haojiang Tianat the New York Historical Society on March 21. [Hong Xiao / for China Daily]

When he arrived at JFK International Airport in 1983, music student Haojiang Tian, who knew little more than yes and no in English, had only $35 in his pocket.

He spent $8 of them on Ernani, an opera at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and saw the famous Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

It was the first real opera Tian had seen. He was on his way to the University of Denver for graduate school.

Eight years later, he performed at the Met, and 10 years later, as one of the few Chinese stars in opera, Tian's bass voice filled major opera houses not only in America but also in Europe and Asia. In 1993, he appeared on stage with the great Pavarotti.

"Never in my wildest dream did I know I will be singing with Pavarotti on the same stage exactly 10 years later," he said.

"On my road in the opera world, every single step I got help from many people, friends, even strangers, mentors, coaches and family. So me and my wife decided it's time to give it back," he said at From Beijing to the Met: A Singing Journey of Haojiang Tian, performed at the New York Historical Society on March 21.

The event featured iSING! International Young Artists Festival, a program he founded in 2011 to support young opera artists. Its mission is to promote young vocal artists in China and introduce Mandarin as a lyric language to the mainstream world.

Tian and his wife, Martha Liao, have helped more than 100 young Chinese singers in their studies and career development in the Western style. He also has helped bring Western singers, conductors and instrumentalists to China.

"That's how art exchange works," said Wu Zhao, consul for cultural affairs with the Chinese Consulate in New York. "It starts with the exchange of artists."

"I think it's really a statement of tribute, not only to the depth of Chinese culture and the talents that come out of it, but also the inclusion of America for all of us with a Chinese-American background." said Shirley Young, chairwoman of the US-China Cultural Institute.

Four members of the iSING!, together with Tian, also performed. They sang Mo Li Hua, or Jasmine Flower, a classic Chinese folk song, and Nessun Dorma.

"China has numerous stories, but it is a huge challenge to make it into an opera," said Tian. "Opera has become an art for museums, but as for how to revitalize it, composers are important."

Hong Xiao and Lu Huiquan contributed to this story.