Exploring China through opera and song
Not only is 2015-16 the Year of China at Michigan State University, it’s the 10th anniversary of an exchange program between the MSU College of Music and the China Conservatory of Music.
Richard Fracker, professor of voice, and Melanie Helton, professor of voice and director of opera theater, merged the vocal exchange program with MSU’s spring opera. The result is a two-part program consisting of a traditional Chinese opera and a revue of theater music from Leonard Bernstein.
“We’re extremely excited and hoping this becomes a jewel in the crown among MSU’s Year of China events,” Helton said. “It’s a perfect synthesis.”
MSU faculty will travel to China on Feb. 28 and will be joined by students on March 3. After a week of rehearsals, the American and Chinese casts will perform twice at the China Conservatory of Music and a third time at National Centre for the Performing Arts — the Beijing equivalent of the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Program members will then come to campus on March 13. Four performances are slated for March 23, 25, 26 and 27 at the Fairchild Theatre, with David Rayl, director of choral programs and associate dean, and MSU alumnus Youqing Yang, a professional conductor from China, leading the Symphony Orchestra.
The exchange and opera involves 26 students — 13 from MSU and 13 from the China Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
“Singing in Chinese is always one of the coolest things,” said Schyler Sheltrown, a vocal performance master’s student who will sing a lead role. “Last year, I sang a duet with a Chinese student. It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language or understand each other because we were able to come together with that piece. She took my hand at the end and we bowed together. It was amazing.”
Vocal performance doctoral student Stephen Martin will participate in the exchange for the third time, assuming both a leading role on stage and in program production.
“MSU is giving us a guided tour of what our lives will be like as professionals,” Martin said. “This program has taught me so much about being a performer as well as a colleague to people of different backgrounds and cultures.”
Chinese student Zaikuan Song first participated in the collaboration in China. He then came to MSU for a performance diploma while concurrently earning his master’s degree from the Chinese Conservatory.
This year, Song serves as a liaison between American and Chinese participants. He tutors MSU cast members in Mandarin and assists with communications with his classmates and faculty in China.
“I’m helping to make everyone’s work a little easier,” Song said. “I’m hoping to help my MSU friends enjoy their time in China and my professors and friends from China enjoy their time here, too.”
Since 2005, the MSU-China Vocal Collaboration has enabled voice students from the U.S. and China to spend time together in both countries performing and learning about each other’s music and cultures.
“While our vocal exchange program is truly an intense undertaking, it is one that unleashes the creative power of diverse viewpoints and contributes to the inclusive culture of our university,” Fracker said. “Everyone agrees it’s a wonderful opportunity to ‘bring a little bit of home’ to the Chinese community here as well as to the American community living and studying in China.”
Donors have helped make the experience possible: Doug Jewell, Lou Anna K. and Roy J. Simon, Barbara Wagner and Loren and Carol Wall.
The public is encouraged to follow the journey on Twitter using #MSUChinaOpera. In addition, The Big 10 Network is currently working on a 30-minute documentary about the MSU Chinese Vocal Collaboration and Opera.
For more information or for tickets to the upcoming opera, click here.