Chinese opera to present Marco Polo’s romance in medieval China, highlight cultural exchanges on Silk Road
By Wang Pan, Lv Guangyi, Eric J. Lyman
GUANGZHOU/ROME, APRIL 2 — The story of young Venetian merchant and explorer Marco Polo is to be retold to his compatriots, as the Carlo Felice Theater (CFT) signed in Rome a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on original opera Marco Polo with its Chinese producer to have the opera open the theater’s 2019-2020 season. Produced by China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) and debuted in Guangzhou Opera House in 2018, the opera has a German composer, a Danish stage director and is performed in Chinese by international singers.
The opera, as the CFT’s Art Director Giuseppe Acquaviva viewed “important in many ways,” is a fresh fruit of the cultural exchanges between Europe and China, two ends of the ancient Silk Road.
MARCO POLO’S ROMANCE BACK TO ITALY
Nearly 700 years ago, Marco Polo, the first European who left a detailed chronicle of his 24 years’ journey in Asia, amazed Europe with his travel notes. Ever since, Marco Polo’s name has become a symbolic link between the East and the West.
According to the MoU signed between CFT and CAEG on March 22, the opera is scheduled to stage at the Italian theater in Genoa in September. It will be the opera’s first foray into the overseas market, said the opera’s executive producer Chen Rui.
To bring the audience back to ancient Chinese city Lin’an (now the capital of Zhejiang Province in east China) where Marco Polo met his beloved girl, British video designer Luke Halls will use the advanced holographic projection technology to present the sceneries.
“This time we will present Marco Polo’s legend with an original Chinese-written opera. And this is an unprecedented attempt,” said Chen, who is also the general-manager assistant of the Guangzhou Opera House.
“Marco Polo is the pioneer of China-Italy cultural communication. He made the Europeans to start yearning towards China,” said Acquaviva, who decided to introduce the opera to Italian audience after watching it in China last year.
Calling the opera an exemplar of cooperation between the East and the West, CFT Superintendent Maurizio Roi told Xinhua, “When the new production premieres in Genoa it will be a true joint project between Italy and China.”
According to Roi, the CFT will provide the orchestra, the chorus, and the set for the Italy premiere in September, but the opera itself, the costumes, and the cast aside the personage of Marco Polo will fall to the Chinese side.
“This will be an important project in many ways,” Acquaviva said in an interview. “First, because it’s important to produce new operas, and also because of the value of strengthening ties between Europe and Asia. That’s what Marco Polo did, and with this production we’ll do our part as well.”
A MAGIC COMBINATION
This is not the first time that Italian and Chinese artists cooperated on a story about Marco Polo. Thirty years ago, the TV series “Marco Polo” co-produced by China, America and Italy was broadcast in 1982 with then well-known Chinese actor Ying Ruocheng played Kublai, the founding emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, who warmly welcomed the Italian explorer.
Ying showed his fluent English in that TV series. This time Italian tenor Giuseppe Talamo will sing in Chinese on stage.
The 39-year-old Italian singer said that although he has performed roles in English, French, and German, he has never sung a note in Chinese, so he is now learning Chinese with professional guidance.
“You don’t have to speak a language in order to sing in that language, but, still, this will probably be the biggest challenge of my career,” Talamo told Xinhua.
“I console myself by remembering that even if I have an Italian accent when I sing in Chinese, that Marco Polo probably had the same accent when he visited China,” he said.
“A magic combination” is what Stage Director Kasper Holten described the opera. “Marco Polo’s story has been well-known for many people for many years, but we can present it in new ways,” he said.
“It is a Chinese opera, as well as a European one, which is written and produced by Chinese and composed by German. That is exciting,” said Holten.
The Danish director, who was Director of Opera at Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London between 2011-2017, said that despite the challenges the Marco Polo opera brought to him, more importantly he wants to deliver a Chinese philosophy to European audience via this play.
“Even through the story happened in the 13th century, I want it to be a mirror to let the audience think about their own love, their understanding of culture and their identity, to let the opera directly connect the audience. And that’s the beauty of cultural communication,” he said.
NEW FRUIT ON MODERN SILK ROAD
Chen, the opera’s executive producer, told Xinhua that the Marco Polo opera won big interest and curiosity upon its introduction to the overseas markets, where the audience is confident about China’s ability in creating high-quality cultural products.
Not long before the 2018 premiere of the opera, China’s experimental Peking Opera Turandot co-produced by the National Peking Opera Company and the Italian Emilia-Romane Theater Foundation was performance in Italy. Besides, in 2015 China and Italy already produced the experimental Peking Opera Faust together. Both of the operas achieved huge success in the overseas markets.
As an increasing number of Chinese cultural products are appreciated by Western audience, the CAEG launched the Silk Road International League of Theaters in October 2016. By early 2019, there have been 107 members from 37 countries and two international organizations in the union, including the CFT.
“The union will pay more attention to improving the capacity of content production and constructing an industrial operation mode in the future. It will become an important cultural carrier for enhancing people’s communication in all countries along the Belt and Road,” said CAEG CEO Li Jinsheng.
Cultural exchanges are playing an increasingly important part in the construction of the Belt and Road. In a keynote speech at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in May 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping made an appeal for related countries to “build the Belt and Road into a road connecting different civilizations,” promoting the application of “exchange”, “mutual learning” and “coexistence” in dealing with different civilizations.
Up to now, the opera staff are still polishing up on the over-two-hour Marco Polo opera in the hope that it will be a hit with the European audience.
“As an original opera in Chinese, Marco Polo still need improving,” said Chen, adding that from Italy, Marco Polo will set off on its global tour. – (Xinhua reporters Deng Ruixuan in Guangzhou and Ye Xinke in Rome also contributed to the story.)