Shenyang: A Bass Baritone With A Big Sound

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Shenyang Sings

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Shenyang. Photo courtesy of artist hide caption

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The bass baritone voice is perfectly suited for big, strong, male lead roles in Wagnerian operas — like Wotan, king of the gods in the Ring Cycle.

But 25-year-old bass baritone Shenyang can sing lighter and more supple music by Handel just as easily.

Shenyang — he has combined his name to be spelled as one word — is one of the most talked-about young singers in opera. He won the prestigious Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 2007. When American soprano Renee Fleming heard him perform in Shanghai, she was floored by his voice and by what she called his "musical intelligence" — so she encouraged him to go to the Juilliard School in New York. This past year, Shenyang made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera, and in February, he will appear at the Met in La Boheme.

Both of Shenyang's parents are singers. He says he grew up surrounded by all sorts of music.

"When I was a kid, I thought that classical music was the same as pop," he says. "I listened to Michael Jackson and [Herbert Von] Karajan at the same time."

Professionally, however, Shenyang has focused his talents on opera, the genre he says best fits his style. In the past two years, he has released several recordings for the Chinese label FengLin. Asked whether he would consider recording a pop album with crossover appeal, he said he has been there, done that.

"My first recording was a commercial recording, a crossover album," he says. "I think I recorded [it] when I was 19 years old, for fun. I want to forget that recording. It's not my style."

Shenyang says it's not his goal to become a world-famous singer, but he hopes there are those for whom his art becomes something of a necessity.

"I want music to be something like a food ... or water," he says. "You need that."

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