During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China staged eye-popping public ceremonies in the Bird's Nest, an iconic stadium built for the occasion. Last summer, singers in the Rochester Oratorio Society zipped by the Nest about two weeks before the Games began. It was thrilling to see it in person!
Now the Bird's Nest is in the news again. With seating for 90,000 spectators, the Nest has stood virtually empty since the Games ended. But it may be saved by the arts; more specifically, by a production of Puccini's Turandot.
The fact that “Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou will restage his famous production of Puccini's "Turandot" at the stadium in October comes as a noteworthy development. Zhang's mega-production, which was originally staged at the Forbidden City in 1998, will include new and improved special effects in addition to the cast-of-thousands pageantry that marked its first outing,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
The music heard during this complex bit of political theater intrigued me, especially the techno-pop version of “Greensleeves” accompanying the arrival of a double-decker London bus. Even more interesting were the national anthems. Let's face it. The “Star Spangled Banner” is just too hard to sing. One and a half octaves. Can you do it? Other countries have it much easier. During the Kenyan anthem, played when Sammy Wanjiru received Kenya’s first gold medal in the marathon, I think I counted all of five notes. Very simple. The Brits have the sweetest anthem of all, “God Save the Queen.” And didn’t you just love the giant, green, unfolding London bus transformer thingy with pop-up singer?
The most conspicuous performer at the Olympics probably couldn’t run a mile without stopping. The twenty-six year-old Chinese piano star Lang Lang has been prepping for his part in the Games for three years. He played this morning from Beijing on the Today show. And he’ll pop up tomorrow night during the Games’ opening ceremony.
Still jet-lagged. My body's convinced morning is night. My mind's still racing, thinking, processing. After so much stimulation, I'm starting to crash. I sleep like the dead.
On our last morning in Shanghai, I found myself in the hotel lobby with a dozen or so Rochester singers waiting for the bus to the airport. With our suitcases collected by the glass revolving door, others drifted into the gift shop or hotel Internet center. Three of four Chinese businessmen sat smoking and chatting on their cells. The Chinese smoke pretty much wherever they want. Bored, I wandered over to a baby grand piano draped in a red velvet cover. I pulled the ruffled fabric away and sat down in front of a heavily lacquered, black Yamaha. I touched a few keys. Perfectly in tune.
Click on the attachment to hear an interview with Eric Townell recorded after our last concert in Shanghai.
After two days in Shanghai, I asked members of the Rochester Oratorio Society and their family members,
"What's the difference between Beijing and Shanghai?"
"[Shanghai] is a little more sophisticated and a little more grungy, altogether." - Jackie
"First, Shanghai's more cosmopolitan, don't you think? People dress in a more stylish way. And the other thing is this: it's WAY hotter. It feels like a sauna and a steam bath in the sun."
"If China is a dragon, Shanghai is its head."
- Deng Xiaping
The Rochester Oratorio Society caught an overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai on Monday. After much merriment and a fitful sleep, I woke before dawn to watch the Chinese countryside. Low, brown houses, lush green fields, and white egrets stood in the early morning mist.