Travels of a Maltese Soprano: Shanghai

Ok I know it was a few months ago, but I have been meaning to write about this trip since I left there! Last April, the Guildhall Opera Course sent us to China to perform the opera scenes we had just performed in London, in the Shanghai Grand Theatre. What a trip that was! I was singing the role of Ginevra (Ariodante) with her popular aria “Volate, amori”, and Adina’s first duet with Nemorino – I absolutely love singing Adina! We also had period costumes in this production, which made it extra fun.

Adina & Nemorino (L’elisir d’amore, Guildhall Opera)

It was a great experience in a number of ways – opera singers have to get used to the lifestyle of travelling to a country, and the next day, getting up early to rehearse – or sometimes with no rehearsal at all – go straight onto the stage! You can imagine just how scary this is, particularly if one has never worked with the conductor or director, and does not know the production, let alone if one had never performed the role before. So, this was certainly good practise! Baby steps, baby steps…

Ginevra, Ariodante and Il Re (Ariodante, Guildhall Opera)

Anyway, the group of us left London on a Wednesday, just the morning after finishing the Opera Scenes the night before. We arrived in Shanghai on the Thursday, had the evening off, and the next day we were on the stage rehearsing, with just a food break before our first performance. We had another performance on the Saturday, and a day off on the Sunday, and left on the Monday.  The Chinese crew was very welcoming, and we were treated very well. The stage hall was quite large and personally, I felt that it gave me such a sense of freedom in my performance, as opposed to singing in the small studio in Milton Court, where we had just performed the scenes. The Chinese audience loved it! We had a scene which was designed to scandalise, and were slightly worried that we might be kicked out of China because of it, but luckily they just found it all rather funny (as it should have been). There were a lot of children in the audience and to our delight, no one seemed bored!! They were lively and spoke during the performance, they laughed too. We thought that actually, it would be really nice if our traditional audiences were a bit more like that – it is honestly so rewarding when you know the audience is enjoying your performance – one feeds off the audiences reactions, it is a give and take, particularly in comedy. 

Lunch in Shanghai’s French Concession

On my day off I visited the French Concession district, which is where many of the Westerners choose to live and socialise. It was a fusion of western meets Chinese, but still with a feeling of being in a very foreign land.

Nicola in Tianzifang

I then visited Tianzifang, a very cool arts district, where you can explore and literally get lost in all the little streets (this is my favourite kind of “touristing” (yes I just made up a word…), because I feel one gets a better feel for a country’s culture 🙂 Having said that, everyone says that Shanghai is pretty westernized…perhaps one day I’ll get to explore a proper Chinese rural village!