‘Opera is the art of arts,’ says Alex Tam, chorus director of Opera Hong Kong. ‘It combines lighting, set and costume design, songwriting, orchestra and choir, soloists, conductors and dancers. There isn’t anything else out there that encapsulates all of these art forms – that’s why opera is challenging but fun.’
Western-style opera has come a long way in Hong Kong. Spearheaded by Dr Lo King-man, the first local production of opera dates back to the 1960s. The art form reached another milestone when celebrated tenor Warren Mok conceived Opera Hong Kong. Today, the city sees regular large-scale local performances each year.
‘Opera is largely democratised today,’ says bass singer Albert Lim, who co-founded the Aria Academy of Music with Tam. ‘There are more performances and school activities, with the occasional chance for primary and secondary students to watch it live. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra also showcases opera scenes in concert, which helps us connect with a wider audience.’
That said, it’s not exactly easy for any aspiring opera singer to get into the scene. It’s still a niche activity, and Opera Hong Kong’s shows mainly involve part-time singers, with professional musicians in the starring roles. Candy Chik, assistant chorus master and chorus singer at Opera Hong Kong, says support for this classical art form is lacking. ‘Venues are in short supply,’ she says. ‘We only have City Hall and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre’s Grand Theatre, and both venues have shortcomings when it comes to staging an opera.’
The limited opportunities also mean opera productions attract high-quality singers, who form a tight-knit group both on stage and off. ‘Musicians have unusual schedules, so we tend to hang out together,’ says Tam, referring to the rehearsals and performances that dominate musicians’ evenings. His remark strikes a chord with Chik. ‘There is always going to be a bit of competition among musicians, but when we all work hard for the good of the show, it creates camaraderie and a vibrant atmosphere.’
Opera Hong Kong stages Puccini’s Turandot in collaboration with New York City Opera from 10 to 14 October