I SING BEIJING wows Kennesaw State audience

For opera buffs and casual concert goers alike, the pioneering performance of “I SING BEIJING” at Kennesaw State University’s Bailey Performance Center on Feb. 22 delivered a unique listening experience for the nearly 600 patrons.

Sponsored by KSU’s Confucius Institute and fresh from its U.S. debut at New York’s Lincoln Center, I SING BEIJING presented the first-ever singers from Western countries trained to perform in Mandarin.

The show’s superb vocals; simple, elegant staging; and glamorous gowns, tuxes and make-up created the sense of a night out at the opera. Yet its mix of selections from contemporary Chinese vocal music and classical Western repertoire — both sang in Mandarin — and standards from popular American theater performed in English satisfied a range of musical tastes.  Speakers of English and Mandarin could follow along easily with translation provided in both languages via a video monitor.

I SING BEIJING is performed by 17 singers from some of the top music programs in the Western hemisphere. They represent Albania, Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Guatemala, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, the U.S. and Uruguay, and are joined by rising stars from China.

For its Kennesaw State performance, the ensemble was accompanied on piano by Fugen Wei, a leading vocal accompanist in China and New York and member of the faculty at the Shanghai Conservatory.

New York Metropolitan Opera star Hao Jiang Tian helped create the program and is its artistic director.  One of the first generation of Chinese singers to reach the pinnacle of Western operatic arts, Tian has sung as a principal soloist at the Metropolitan for the past 19 seasons and performed around the world. 

Introducing the performers, Tian assured the audience they were in for a complete musical experience, reflecting that opera the world over “conveys the passion and drama of life, love and loss.” Tian shared, through video, the intensive training the singers undergo to learn Mandarin language, diction and vocal performance.

 “As a student pursing a degree in foreign language, I understand the challenges associated with learning a new language,” said Whitney Betts. “The vocalists at I SING BEIJING inspired me with the beautiful melodies they were able to achieve in their non-native language of Mandarin. The night was truly amazing.”

-- Sabbaye McGriff