Chinese soprano Ying Huang has generated an extraordinary level of critical acclaim and popularity in a career that has already spanned many arenas, including opera and concert stages, television, recordings and motion pictures. She made a sensational debut as Cio-Cio San in Francois Mitterand’s acclaimed feature film Madama Butterfly.
Ms. Huang opened the 2008–2009 season with a concert as a soloist with the Seoul Philharmonic. She then returned to the Metropolitan Opera to sing performances of Giannette in L’elisir d’amore and Amor in Orfeo, followed by a concert with the Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York. During the 2007–2008 season, Ms. Huang made her company debut with the Canadian Opera Company as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. She repeated this role with the Michigan Opera Theatre, before traveling to China for a Gala concert at the Shanghai Grand Theatre commemorating the 80th Anniversary of her alma mater, the Shanghai Conservatory.
Ms. Huang opened the current season singing the title role in a new production of Semele with Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, directed by acclaimed contemporary artist Zhang Huan. She traveled with the Opera Hong Kong for performances . . . of Pamina in The Magic Flute in Hong Kong and Beijing. Her season concludes with her Opera Boston debut creating the title role in the world premiere of Zhou Long’s Madame White Snake. She returns to New York City where she will be featured in a recital by Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York.
ASIANCE: How did you get into Opera? Who did you look up to as a child?
Ying : In China, at that time, it was the early ‘80s. We knew famous operas like Madame Butterfly, Carmen, La traviata. Placido Domingo was the tenor for La traviata. When I was about 16 or 17, I was really impressed and touched by the music. I thought it was an important time period. Those limited operas were important to China and very influential to my later life.
When I grew up in Shanghai, I was lucky to meet the right time and right person. I was singing in one of the best children’s choirs. Mr. Wu chose me as a soloist for the children’s choir. Since I was 12 years old, he really led me to the classical music and opera field
ASIANCE: What do you see for the future of Opera?
Ying : I think the future of opera is East meets West, multicultural to introduce to the audience.
It’s like the direction, which luckily I have been involved in the last 10 years, of contemporary music. I’m a classically trained, western style Opera singer. I had been singing Western Opera internationally for more than a decade, singing mostly Mozart. Artistically, I’ve been constantly proving myself as one of the best Mozart sopranos in the Opera tech scene. Three years ago, I debuted at the Metropolitan Opera singing another Mozart important role, Pamina in The Magic Flute. It was the first HD movie form to be introduced to a younger audience. It was received very well internationally. I want to not only be a good opera singer. This is the 21st century, opera singers should be a good singer and an actress. So that’s what I’m proving myself as, an Opera singing actress.
I was lucky. I had been doing that.
For the contemporary opera, such as Madame Whitesnake, this is actually the Chinese opera in English, which I have been doing for the last 10 years. I’m working with people like Tandun and the other top Chinese contemporary composers, including Jing Jing Luo.
ASIANCE: You speak English really well.
Ying : English is the first foreign language to learn in the program. First is British English. We have Chinese teachers who are mostly influenced by the British system. We all had a British accent in the beginning. But of course, American culture is everywhere and more and more Chinese people speak English. Since the country opened up 30 years ago, it’s become more international. We have two major cities Beijing and Shanghai. I was born in Shanghai which is more westernized.
When I arrived in Paris and was auditioning, I didn’t speak a word of English. I had a translator, A French lady who knew Chinese. I wanted to communicate myself, with other artists. Having a good education when I was young, allowed me to pick it up.
I live in New York so I consider myself Asian American. I’ve been singing two different versions of the magic flute.
ASIANCE: What is your favorite Opera?
Ying : I like Mozart operas which I’m singing the most. I’m into the early music, which I just did called Semele in Brussels at the Royal Opera House there. It’s also East Meets West. It’s China and the Royal House of Brussels. I like Puccini too and La Boehme.
ASIANCE: Is there an Opera you would like to participate in?
Ying : There are quite a few. I like Mozart’s opera Lucio Silla, the role of Sophie. I like Figaro, the character Susanna. I also would like to create new roles, like this time in Madame Whitesnake. I speak for every opera singer these days. If you have a title role written for you then you’re very fortunate. It’s challenging and gives your freedom to portray the role.
ASIANCE: Is there anyone you would like to work with?
Ying : Lots of great musicians. Placido Domingo. I would like to sing with him again. I did my first concert with him in 1996. It was The First Emperor.
The Shanghai International Expo is big in China this year. I’ve been invited to participate. What I’m doing, I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing.
ASIANCE: What artists do you like in China?
Ying : That’s hard to answer. I do with work with different artists every time I go back to China. I like Tandun, Jolin. There are Composers, Directors, and Theatre Directors. I think I am the missionary for the East West Exchange. I have this mission and I’m also a role model for the younger generation of singers. I want to introduce more Western music. Fortunately, I work in New York. I can work with up and coming artists and bring them back to China,
ASIANCE: What do you like to do in your free time?
Ying : Shopping! I’m a shopaholic but I appreciate great things like every other woman. I like things connected with my work, like cosmetics, shoes, evening gowns, cocktail dresses.
I like fashion. It makes you relax. I like window shopping. I like the trends. It’s necessary for a modern woman, artist.
ASIANCE: What do you have to say about Madame Whitesnake, your next opera performance?
Ying : This role wasn’t written for me exactly but it’s a great opportunity to be creative, especially the title role. I really appreciate this opportunity and am looking forward to the world premiere. I have the opportunity to present this to the Western audience. She is a snake spirit, a demon. A character is a strong willingness to pursue the freedom of life of new love. She’s in charge. She’s a contemporary and independent woman.
ASIANCE: Do you see a big difference between women in American and women in China?
Ying : I see less and less difference between Chinese Women (Beijing, Shanghai) and American women, especially the younger generation. They’re more westernized, educated and upfront. This is a globalized world. I see this in all the cities in the world, such as Tokyo, Paris. They’re all confident, educated, independent women.
To see Ying Huang on stage this month, check out Opera Boston’s Madame White Snake Feb 26, 28, & Mar 2. For more info, visit www.operaboston.org