Zhang Liping will perform operas in Beijing, Wuhan and Changsha later this month. [China Daily/Wang Xiaojing]
More than a decade ago, soprano Zhang Liping became the first Chinese-born singer to play a lead role with the New York Metropolitan Opera in Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly.
During her stay abroad, she also performed in operatic productions in Europe and the United States, such as La Traviata, Turandot, Faust and Carmen.
She returned to China in 2006 and has since worked as the director of the department of vocal music and opera at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
Zhang will hold a concert in the city on May 12, when she will highlight French composers Gabriel Faure, Henri Duparc and others from French operas. Similar concerts will also be staged in Wuhan on May 19 and Changsha on May 21.
"I have had a special love for French art songs ever since I was a student. Singing an art song is like reading a poem," says Zhang.
The soprano says it requires knowledge of French language and culture to interpret the songs.
"I made the program list according to the most representative composers of French art songs," says Zhang, adding that she knows art songs don't have a market in China yet.
But she hopes that will change.
"Arts songs are soft, slow and beautiful," she says.
"The Chinese audience likes operas because the scenes are grand and singers usually perform in high-pitched voices. In contrast, art songs are only arranged for a singer and an instrument, like the piano. It takes time and patience to immerse oneself into such music and atmosphere."
In 2012, Zhang performed Western art songs at a concert in Beijing, and two years later, she released the album Schubert: Night and Dreams, in which she sings 18 romantic art songs by Austrian composer Franz Schubert.
In 2014, she also sang Chinese art songs, including works by poet and composer Jiang Kui from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and extracts from the Chinese opera Xi Shi.
In 2009, Zhang played the lead role in the opera that was staged at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing.
To appeal to the audience at home, Zhang has adapted several Chinese pop songs into art songs, such as The Evening Primrose and Olive Tree.
"China once had beautiful art songs, especially Song poetry, which was sung along with a guzheng (Chinese zither). But nowadays, people have lost interest in such songs and some don't even know what art songs are," Zhang says, adding she plans to release an academic collection and perform Chinese art songs for her students first and then for the general audience.
Born in Wuhan, Hubei province, to a classical musician and a dancer, Zhang received her vocal training at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music and graduated from the vocal opera department of the Central Conservatory of Music, where she now teaches, in 1989.
As a student, she performed with Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, and the big break inspired her to pursue opera in the West by studying with Canadian soprano Phyllis Mailing at the Vancouver Academy of Music.
In 1997, she moved to London and started her career.
Besides her signature role as Cio-Cio-San in Madame Butterfly, Zhang also won acclaim for her roles as Mimi in La Boheme and Gilda in Rigoletto at major opera houses.
"I hope I can provide more opportunities to the young generations of singers in China like by inviting them to perform with me at concerts in the future," Zhang says.
Young Chinese musician Zhang Jialin will play the piano accompaniment for the soprano during her upcoming concerts.
(Source: China Daily)