Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

Jac van Steen in Conversation

Last year’s Strauss anniversary year — 150 years since his birth — offered, at least in the United Kingdom, a typical number of opportunities and frustrations.

Jonathan Dove’s Flight, Opera Holland Park

On 6 June, Jonathan Dove’s Flight touches down in Kensington, west London. Opera Holland Park is to stage the first London production of Dove’s operatic presentation of the real-life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the Iranian exile who, lacking residency rights or refugee status, was forced to live in the departure lounge of Terminal One at Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards, Wigmore Hall

Kathleen Ferrier may have been one of the world’s finest contraltos but this year’s Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final, held at the Wigmore Hall, was all about lyric sopranos.

World Premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain at Santa Fe Opera this August

East Coast Premiere at Opera Philadelphia next season. Performances from Cold Mountain at the Guggenheim in New York this Monday, March 30.

Winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Announced

Five Young Singers Named Winners of the 2015 Met National Council Auditions, America’s Most Prestigious Vocal Competition

A Chat with Julia Noulin-Mérat

Julia Noulin-Mérat is the principal designer for the Noulin-Merat Studio, an intrepid New York City production design firm that works in theater, film, and television, but emphasizes opera and immersive site-specific theatre.

Mirabai: New opera, holograms and eternal love

A brand new opera — especially one that is groundbreaking— can really put an opera company on the map. British composer Barry Seaman’s stunning new work, Mirabai, which explores the story of the free thinking, mystic 16th century Hindu princess, Mira, is ambitious on many levels — artistically, technically and creatively.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2015

Bampton Classical Opera has announced that applications are now open for the company’s Young Singers’ Competition 2015. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate Bampton Classical Opera’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

A Chat with Anita Rachvelishvili

Anita Rachvelishvili recently performed the title role in Carmen broadcast by The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. Here she drops by for a little chat with our Maria Nockin.

On The Death of Klinghoffer

This is a revised version of my review of the Sept 5th 1991American premiere of The Death of Klinghoffer, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The opera was first performed at Brussels’ La Monnaie the previous spring.

Dolora Zajick about her Institute for Young Dramatic Voices

"Although there are now more people on this planet than there have ever been before, there are fewer dramatic voices. Something is wrong with that equation. I thought there needs to be some sort of helping hand so that dramatic voices don’t fall through the cracks in the system as they advance through their various stages of development."

The Metropolitan Opera to cancel its Live in HD transmission of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer scheduled for this fall

 

Anna Prohaska, one of Europe’s most promising sopranos

Anna Prohaska sings Sister Constance in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Royal Opera House. In the same month, she’s also in London to sing a recital with Eric Schneider at the Wigmore Hall, and to sing Henze with Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican Hall.

Garsington Opera’s 25th anniversary unites its past with its future

Garsington Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Annapolis Opera’s 26th Annual Vocal Competitions

Baritone Brandon Coleman’s mother, Linda, knew that 3-year old Brandon would be a great singer when a stranger who had heard him, predicted it.

Barbiere Comes to Sin City

Professional opera returns to the Las Vegas Valley June 6th and 8th with performances of one of the best-known comic operas of all time, Gioachino Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Jean-Paul Scarpitta in Montpellier

I met with the embattled artistic director of the Opéra et Orchestre National de Montepellier not to talk about his battles. I simply wanted to know the man who had cast and staged a truly extraordinary Mozart/DaPonte trilogy.

Interview: Tenor Saimir Pirgu — From Albania to Italy to LA

Maria Nockin interviews tenor Saimir Pirgu.

Claudio Abbado, Italian conductor, dies aged 80

Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, former principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, has died aged 80

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

ZhengZhong Zhou [Photo courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
12 Jul 2011

“Opera is like a tree” — ZhengZhong Zhou

In Gounod’s Faust at the Royal Opera House in October 2011, Zhengzhong Zhou is alternating with Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the part of Valentin. Alternating, not covering or substituting. Since Zhou is very young, it’s quite a challenge.

“Opera is like a tree” — ZhengZhong Zhou

By Anne Ozorio

Above: ZhengZhong Zhou [Photo courtesy of The Royal Opera House]

 

Such is the status of the Young Artists Programme that it attracts hundreds of applicants for the dozen or so places offered each year. Talent alone is not enough. Only those with proven professional experience and potential are chosen in the first place. Vocal ability is a given. Over the two year Programme, their skills are refined. They work on vocal improvement, language, stage skills, and personal skills. ZhengZhong Zhou joined the Young Artists Programme in September 2010.

Before he came to London, he spent two years in the company at Marseille Opera, developing an affinity for French repertoire. Before he left France, he sang a recital of Poulenc songs, he recounts. “I love Poulenc”, he says “and Debussy!”

Born in Hubei, China, he trained at the Shanghai Conservatory, established 100 years ago. Shanghai was the biggest city in the world, sophisticated and international. Russian and central European refugees flocked to China, many of them talented musicians and singers. The Shanghai Conservatory was a centre for excellence, even in the dark days of the Cultural Revolution.

Singing came instinctively to Zhou. In 1983, the year before he was born, Luciano Pavarotti gave a concert in Beijing. The recording became so popular in China that it was frequently played on the radio and on cassettes. Everyone listened. Zhou absorbed Pavarotti even before he’d learned to speak. As an infant he was singing along, for the sheer joy of singing, too young to recognize language or style. “I sang ‘O sole mio’”, he say. “People used to say, why is that boy singing in Italian? But I was too young to know the difference. I just sang because I loved it and wanted to sing it all the time. I liked Pavarotti because his voice was so wide and bright, but I copied every different voice type, because it was so much fun”.

“Maybe it helps because Chinese is a musical language”, he says “everything comes from tones, and you change meaning by changing pitch”, he says. “When I meet musicians, I tell them they can remember how to pronounce my name by the tune”. He then sings his name showing how the inflections work. “In Mandarin there are four tones, and in the south there are nine different tones”.

“Music is international, because it’s about feelings, and everyone has feelings”, says Zhou. “in every part of the world. So when you are singing you are not just singing words, you’re singing feelings”. Zhou sings a passage from Don Carlo in a straightforward manner. Then his face lights up and he sings the same passage, this time full of expression.“You add little breaths and make little changes”, he says, “so you can make it sound true”. Then he sings it again explaining phrase by phrase, with great enjoyment..

Zhou brings his notebooks out of his briefcase. “I write out the music by hand. Then I write the words, then I write notes for myself, to show how to shape the singing and meaning”. He makes numerous interpretive markings and uses different coloured inks, so the notes are surprisingly easy to follow. The idea is that, with this thorough groundwork, he can absorb the music intuitively. In performance, he’s then free to sing spontaneously, having built the foundations beforehand.

“I’m so happy to be in Europe because that is the motherland of western opera”, he says. We discuss the wider cultural milieu that is the background to understanding European opera. “I like to learn”, he says, with enthusiasm. Zhou is an avid reader. Recently he sang Brühlmann in Massenet’sWerther. It’s a small part but Zhou is observant. “Massenet is interested in all the family, Albert, Sophie, the children. Family and duty. It’s different to Goethe’s Werther”.

Since Werther, Zheng has created Prince Yamadori in Puccini Madama Butterfly, which has been filmed for cinema release. Yamadori is an interesting character because he has the highest status of anyone in the opera. He rides in a carriage, the others walk. Yet he will give up his other wives to marry Cio Cio San if she’ll have him. It’s a substantial part for a singer still in his mid-twenties, but Zheng made it sympathetic.

On 17th July, the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme holds it year-end gala. The show is put together by the young artists themselves. This year’s theme is “Venice - its history, mystery and glamour. The first part of the programme is built around lesser-known Rossini, and the second part around Donizetti, Offenbach and Britten. Zhou is singing. He speaks animatedly of the pleasures of bel canto.

“We learn to connect to people”, he says of the Jette Parker Scheme. “The singing, of course, but everything else that goes into making opera, like stagecraft and acting.” For his graduate dissertation, Zhou wrote about acting in opera, studying Stanislavski, the Alexander technique and Rolando Villazón as case study. “Opera is like a tree. The roots grow from the music, they are the basic part, but the branches are acting, using language, movement. When the whole tree grows strong, then you can reach people better”.

Zhou mentions a movie about a prison, where the prisoners are brutally treated. Then one of them hears Mozart on the radio. “When he hears Mozart”, says Zhou, “The prisoner thinks, I am human, I am a man, even in that prison. He doesn’t know about classical music, but the music has that effect on him”.

“It is like light. Electric light is easy, you just turn a switch. But opera is like a candle. You light the flame, and it keeps changing colours, shadows, moods. If you want to connect with people, you want the right atmosphere to communicate. Rich or poor, everyone has feelings. So you want to reach those feelings”. What does Zhou do when he’s not working? “I get frustrated”, he says, “I need to sing”.

For more information, please see the Royal Opera House website.

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):