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'I Sing Beijing' transcends cultures

(Global Times)

09:51, August 16, 2012

2011's "I Sing Beijing Gala" concert at the NCPA. (Global Times/Tian Haojiang )

On August 13, inside a rehearsal room at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing, Jacquelyn Stucker, a student at Brooklyn College in New York, is practicing her role in the traditional Chinese opera, The White-Haired Girl.

Coached by both a Chinese and foreign director, Stucker sings each line in Chinese at least five times to reach their standard.

"I got the music early July and started practicing," said Stucker. "It's challenging but interesting."

Stucker came to China a month ago for the 2012 "I Sing Beijing Gala Concert," to be held on August 28 at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), along with 20 other foreign students from six countries. Those students have professional music backgrounds but limited Putonghua skills.

As the second session, the concert this year will feature foreign students performing classic Chinese operas in Chinese, including The White-Haired Girl, Jiang Jie and Chinese Orphan at the NCPA late this month.

Though it's common to see Chinese singers singing Western opera on stage, it's rare to hear foreigners singing traditional Chinese operas.

"The program for 'I Sing Beijing' enables foreigners to have more access to traditional Chinese opera," said Tian Haojiang, the acclaimed opera bass and chief art director of the program.

Staging the program

Performing at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for 19 years and staging over 1,400 performances of Western operas, Tian said he has witnessed many cases of Chinese people learning Western languages, art and culture. Foreigners however, pursue only certain aspects of Chinese culture.

"Their understanding of China is still limited to Chinese food, Bruce Lee and Taichi. As an opera singer, I feel obligated to enlighten people about Chinese opera," Tian told the Global Times.

Initiated last year by Hanban, or the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing, the program gets its financial support from channels like the government, enterprises and personal donations, said Tian.

"It took us four months to select 21 actors from hundreds of candidates; there are six more cast members than last year," he said.

"It was an intense competition," Stucker said. "When I auditioned, I didn't think I would get in. There were students from Manhattan School of Music, and other well-respected schools. They not only had auditions in America, but also in Italy and other places. I just tried my best."

With the music materials prepared for them, Stucker and her classmates attended classes from 10am to 6pm everyday.

"Emotions are not strong enough, you have to find the right intensity," American coach Kristine MacIntyre said in a class, referring to where Stucker's performance goes wrong.

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