Part 2 – Building bridges with Beijing
By Samantha Test
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Opera is changing in China and the Seattle Opera is helping contribute to its future.
For two consecutive years, Seattle Opera has been invited by the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) to attend the World Opera Forum in Beijing, China. The forum was created to promote collaboration and exchange between opera companies and is structured to be both a learning environment — with each company presenting a particular topic — and a place where companies can discuss possible partnerships.
“After the NCPA opened, [the Chinese] were interested and eager to produce Western-style opera,” said Kelly Tweeddale, executive director of Seattle Opera.
“They have invited opera companies with a particular point of view from Asia, Europe, and North America.”
In 2011, Seattle was the only company to represent the United States, due to its particular expertise in the Wagner repertoire. Last month, Seattle was joined by Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, and The Met for the 2012 summit.
The June 20–22 forum’s theme was “Opera Co-production under the Multicultural Context.” Topics of discussion included value orientation, theatre construction, art creation, team construction, fundraising, technology cooperation, marketing and
art education, and how to further promote the communication and coordination among opera institutions in the world.
“Western-style opera is still a very new phenomenon in China and they are at the beginning of building an audience and introducing the standard repertoire,” said Tweeddale.
According to its website, the NCPA is striking a balance between Western-style opera and Chinese context and culture.
“Because Western-style opera in China is in the very early stages of development, companies are less interested in making the standard repertoire new and relevant, but rather are producing fairly traditional and conservative productions,” said Tweeddale.
“With that said, they are less daunted at the prospect of commissioning new work as there is not the environment of comparison to masterworks that exist in both Europe and the U.S.”
In her two trips to Beijing, Tweeddale says she has learned of art’s power, regardless of national borders or political differences. She hopes to build a lasting partnership with China, where both can share expertise and perhaps cultivate opportunities to co-present productions.
Representatives from China briefly visited Seattle this past March. It was their first trip here, but will not be their last. Seattle has invited them back to experience its trademark production, “The Ring,” next summer in 2013.
Part of the coveted Wagner repertoire, “The Ring” is a cycle of four operas known as “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (The Ring of Nibelung) or, “The Ring,” for short. Generally acclaimed as German opera composer Richard Wagner’s (1813–1883) greatest achievement, it includes “Das Rheingold” (The Rhine Gold), “Siegfried,” “Die Walküre” (The Valkyrie), and “Götterdämmerung” (Twilight of the Gods).
Tweeddale claimed that 20 opera houses are currently being developed throughout China.
“There is a deep commitment to investing in this art form,” said Tweeddale about China.
She believes it is important for cultures to connect through the arts because of art’s role in transcending political differences and create a space to communicate on truly shared values, which include beauty, inquiry, and understanding.
The NCPA complex, which opened in 2007 and was nicknamed “the Bird’s Egg” by locals, is already a world renowned venue. It is considered more modern than any American or European theater. It is located in close proximity to Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People.
Although Western-style opera is new to China, and Seattle’s relationship with the NCPA is still budding, Speight Jenkins, general director of Seattle Opera, has high expectations for China.
“The Chinese are just starting, what they have accomplished since 2008 is astonishing,” Jenkins said. “They are doing some good work and we’re dealing with people who are discovering every single opera. The main thing is, they couldn’t be nicer or more professional. They are eager to learn and they are going to be good.” (end)
Samantha Test can be reached at email@example.com.