I’ve only every been to the Opera twice in my life. The first time was 40 years ago as a teenager, invited by our family neighbour to see Rigoletto at the Sydney Opera House. Our neighbour Tom was very aware of my interest in music, and generously took me to Sydney to introduce me to the Operatic form. My second Opera experience occurred in Beijing last week, when our hosts, Wei and Karin, invited Anne and I to join them, and their friend Alfy, to enjoy Bellini’s “Norma”, on the occasion of their 27th wedding anniversary.
I’m glad we accepted the invitation. Attending the Opera in Beijing brings with it three distinct experiences. 1; the opera itself, comprising the performers, the stage scenery and props, the orchestra and the story. 2; the venue, on this occasion being the very grandiose Beijing Opera House (The National Centre for the Performing Arts), affectionately known locally as “The Giant Egg”, and. 3; the journey to the show, being a convoy of bikes on our night out, taking a route which allowed us to cycle across Tiananmen Square and enjoy the setting sun on the Forbidden City.
Having only been to the Opera twice does not qualify me as an expert, and given that both I have seen were performed in Italian, makes me even less so of an expert. It felt a little incongruous sitting watching Norma in Beijing. The lead roles were filled by Italian Opera stars, and the Conductor was also Italian. The Chorus and Orchestra comprised a very talented cast of Chinese singers and musicians. The story was projected on screens across the top and down the side of the stage in both English and Chinese which was a great help. I wish they had that technology when I first saw Rigoletto! And lastly, I was sitting with a group of family and friends whose heritages extended from China, to the UK, New Zealand and Australia.
“The Giant Egg” was a site to behold. The facility was built to be ready for use to coincide with the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The ever helpful Wikipedia tells me that “The Centre, an ellipsoid dome of titanium and glass surrounded by an artificial lake, seats 5,452 people in three halls and is almost 12,000 m² in size. It was designed by French architect Paul Andreu. Construction started in December 2001 and the inaugural concert was held in December 2007”. An unusual feature of the venue is the entry vestibule, which sits directly below the artificial lake surrounding the Dome. The ceiling of the vestibule is made of glass, so when you look up, your view is captured by the rippling water above. A wonderful design feature indeed.
And now to the journey. I’ve mentioned our attempts at Beijing cycling in a previous Blog, so it was another challenge, not taken lightly, that we mounted our electric steads and headed off to the theatre. Isn’t that how you go to the Opera? There were five of us, so keeping a group of that size together, whilst traversing the main streets of Beijing and its peak hour traffic is a logistical battle in itself. It wasn’t a long ride, but our path did take us right past the Forbidden City at sunset and through the heart of Tiananmen Square.
It was an amazing ride to the Opera, and home again late at night. It was an unforgettable experience, made all the more enjoyable knowing we were celebrating the 27th wedding anniversary of Wei and Karin.
A special night of memories with a very special couple.