Sunday, 5 August 2012

A Beijing Night with China's Three Tenors, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

*** update 17th November 2012
The Three Tenors from China - Dai Yuqlang, Wei Song and Warren wah-lun Mok - will be performing in this year's Royal Variety Show at the Albert Hall, London on 19th November.
*** end of update
3rd August 2012

This one evening only concert was promoted by various Chinese organisations and a friend of mine from the Royal Society of Edinburgh took me to the reception and concert on 3rd August.  Several posters were advertising the concert and the day before we noticed some of the buses passing through Princes’ Street carried publicity for the evening. 

Promotional material on an Edinburgh bus in Princes Street

A Beijing Night with China's 3 tenors
2 August 2012

Photograph of Warren Wah-Lun Mok, Dai Yuqiang and Wei Song

2 August 2012

The Usher Hall has attracted many big voices over the years. My family saw Gigli there and I took friends to see Jessye Norman in the 1970s.  I had previously checked out the Hall for access and the box office for information about running times as I had to arrange transport.

On the evening I teamed up with my friend from University of Edinburgh days and we went to the reception for the three tenors: Dai Yuqiang, Wei Song and Warren Wah-Lun Mok, who were mixing with the others just prior to the concert. One of my friend’s contacts at the Chinese Consulate approached us and I was introduced to Zhou Youbin, the Acting Consul (“one week only”).  China and Scotland have many arts and science exchanges one of which is the pair of pandas at the Edinburgh Zoological Gardens.  There were several speeches including one from Deidre Brock, the Deputy Provost, who reminded us that the Usher Hall was coming up for its centenary.  This was followed by a speech by James Tee, the Director of Overseas Promotion. 

The concert started with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Martin Yates performing the Overture from Rossini’s Barber of Seville and the three tenors came on to the stage (Left from audience and I was seated in right side of stalls).

The opening number was from Rigoletto by Verdi.  In doing the La donna e mobile, I noticed a very controlled legato on two occasions. Not everyone can do legato for too long (Franco Corelli was a famous exception) and I made a mental note.  I could not work out who was singing but could detect quite distinct voices.  Though not having seen the Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras trio perform together, I had heard Domingo often enough in Munich, New York and Covent Garden in the 1970s.  I had also heard Carreras and Pavarotti perform separately in London, a recital in Pavarotti’s case. 

An absolute showstopper was the performance of Pourquoi me reveiller by Dai Yuqiang from Massenet’s Werther.  Goethe’s Werther was the Romantic story of its day and a real cultural high point in Western 19th Century music.  This is my favourite French opera and I had heard Placido Domingo do this in New York some 30 years ago.  This is a tough piece for tenor and orchestra alike and it is a roller coaster moment as the music soars before dropping to a whisper.  I cheered and cheered, it was so good. 

Another French piece was the Flower Song from Bizet’s Carmen sung by Warren Mok. This has another Franco Corelli story (Talking Books has a recording of John Culshaw telling tales of recording famous singers and the Franco Corelli stories are hilarious.  The book is titled Putting the Record Straight: The Autobiography of John Culshaw.) I am not keen on Carmen though it was beautifully sung too.  I mentioned to my friend who noted a few comments- write down Ma Franco.   

One of the Chinese items was also good. It was the 2nd piece in the first half called That’s Me and sung by Warren Mok.  Another showstopper was Recondita armonia from Puccini’s Tosca and sung by Dai Yuqiang .  This is often a killer for a tenor, coming in at the beginning.  Like Celeste Aida in Verdi it comes in shortly after the opening.  This was beautifully sung.  There was also a popular selection of Chinese and light Italian songs (songs for the bath tub) and some of the Scots were beginning to clap in both Chinese and Italian numbers. 

We were going to get an encore and I whispered to my friend “Wonder if they will do something Scottish?” The reply was “One of them has come on stage with a kilt- all three have kilts on!”  We were treated to O Sole Mio and Nessun Dorma. 

China's 3 tenors giving an encore in kilts
Tartan remains to be identified

A very enjoyable evening to add to memories of the Usher Hall stretching over 50 years.

Usher Hall, Edinburgh
(from Lothian Road)
2 August 2012

The Franco Corelli story did not stop there either. Corelli was noted for having the best legs in the business.  I don’t know if he ever wore a kilt though.