When I bought the tickets for this performance on January the 2nd 2008, at the Music Hall of the National Centre for Performing Arts, I never thought that the stage would be situated so close to me, and so would be, of course, the star of the night, Kiri Te Kanawa. She was there, no more that 10 meters away from my seat, singing, for 1000 or 2000 spectators, but for a moment I felt she was only singing for me.
I've always had the aim of perceiving and studying the work of the best artists as close as possible, and when this is really possible a sensation of triumph comes to my heart and my soul simply goes and enjoys. Some hours ago, during her performance, I stayed looking at her with all my attention, enjoying and analyzing her voice, her eyes, her hands, her gestures; I was learning and I was enjoying one of the highest levels of artistic technique and talent a human being can reach.
Listening to her made me recall many moments of my life. Without exaggerating, one falls in love with one or another great artist, we’ve all been teenagers, it is inevitable! Many special moments were filled by them, by their art. Those tones, that special rhythm did it.
I clapped and shouted "bravo" many times, I lived some kind of ecstasy; we all have some kind of spectator career, this could be a definite turning point in mine.
Most of the recital consisted of one series of songs accompanied by pianist Julian Reynolds,songs not as famous as many others we would have wanted to listen to by composers like Strauss, Mozart and Puccini. But that first impression disappeared after listening to the always special way she usually charms her public: ambience. I called it a big sea of serenity; she manages her volume with mastery. There is no projection, there is magnetism. Even Mozart and his Die Zauberflöte never jumped into the usually energetic interpretation, everything stayed equal, a sea of serenity. Those pieces by the biggest composers became simple motifs of beauty, contemplation, fluidity and, one more time, serenity.
In the end, to close the concert, came "O mio Babbino caro".
Since my teens I have identified this aria by Puccini with Kiri Te Kanawa's voice; I have dreamed and been inspired by her interpretation; some hours ago, she sung for me and I felt again as a youngster, a dreamer. In this extraordinary and melodramatic explosion of sensations I didn't cry, there were no tears; I was simply very extraordinarily happy.
Kiri Te Kanawa is one of many top stars (1) who are coming to China for the first season of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, the new main national theatre of China, built by the French architect Paul Andreu. "The Egg", as this building is known because of his egg "à la cacerole" shape , has three big theaters: a music hall, an auditorium and the grand theater. This huge and impressive structure of metal and wood is considered one of the architectonic wonders of our time.
The sad point of the night was part of the public. At the beginning of the concert the Music Hall was full to capacity but, after the first intermission (the concert had around 6 intermissions), a part of the public left; that was sad. But with some panic we started to see that more public kept leaving taking advantage of the next intermissions. Of course that didn’t change Kiri Te Kanawa’s attitude, who at her every entry to the stage saw how some parts of the theater had been left empty.
I'll try to explain this situation: in general, in China, important spectacles are subsidized by the government or, because of the interminable bureaucratic permits, theater impresarios have so many "favors to repay" that they give big quantities of free tickets to bureaucrats; many people sell their free tickets, but many go to the performances without even knowing what they are going to see, leaving the shows within the first 10 or 15 minutes, specially in Western style events.
I said it before, Kiri Te Kanawa saw this, but nothing changed, and most of the public stayed there, seated, waiting for the next song; she always smiled and sung preciously.
After "O mio Babbino caro", in that usual part at the end of every concert, we asked for more and then she sung two more pieces, amongst them one composed in Maori, the language of the natives in her New Zealand.
Of course it was impossible to take a video of the concert, but I found in Youtube a video recorded in the 90's in Italy with Kiri Te Kanawa singing "O mio Babbino caro":
(1) Stars like Lang Lang, the Marinsky Theater, Seiji Ozawa, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, José Carreras, and others.