Shenyang: A Bass Baritone With A Big Sound The 25-year-old won the prestigious Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 2007. When American soprano Renee Fleming heard him perform in Shanghai, she was floored — so she encouraged him to go to Juilliard in New York. This past year, Shenyang made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera, and he'll soon appear in La Boheme.
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Shenyang: A Bass Baritone With A Big Sound

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Shenyang: A Bass Baritone With A Big Sound

Shenyang: A Bass Baritone With A Big Sound

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

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

But 25-year-old bass baritone Shenyang can sing Handel just as easily.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHENYANG (Opera Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: 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 opera star Renee Fleming heard him in Shanghai, she was floored by his voice and by what she called his musical intelligence. So she encouraged him to come to the Juilliard School in New York.

This past year, Shenyang debuted with the Metropolitan Opera. And in February, he will be appearing at the Met in "La Boheme." Both of Shenyang's parents are singers and he grew up surrounded by all sorts of music.

Mr. SHENYANG: To me, when I was a kid, I thought that classical music or opera is same as the pop. They're all music. They're all the beautiful things for the human. I still remember when I was in middle school or even younger I was listening to Michael Jackson and Karajan at the same time.

HANSEN: Herbert Von Karajan and Michael Jackson at the same time.

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah, they're both great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Absolutely.

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah.

HANSEN: I would agree with you. You entered a children's singing contest?

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah. I went to a couple of, you know, children singing competitions. Usually I forgot a word. I dont know, it was not a correct thing for me 'cause it was little bit silly to me.

HANSEN: But, you know, you did win in a contest. You won Cardiff Singer of the World.

HANSEN: I mean, now, that's an important contest.

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah, probably it was the most important thing in my life.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHENYANG: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: What did you sing?

Mr. SHENYANG: I had a Wagner piece. I had a Verdi. I had a Mozart. I had a Gounod - French. And finally, I sang the Rachmaninoff opera "Aleko."

HANSEN: Really?

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah, I knew that piece from my father 'cause he sang that piece in his graduation recital.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHENYANG: (Singing in foreign language)

Before a competition, Renee Fleming came to China and gave a recital in Shanghai. Also, she gave a master class in Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and she had four students. I was the one of them.

HANSEN: And she noticed you.

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah. And, you know, finally I won that. And we sent Renee a message right away, right after, you know, the announcement. And Renee was so, you know, extremely happy. And afterwards, she suggest me to come to New York and study here.

HANSEN: There was an article in the Financial Times of London last year and it said in the past few years the number of superb Chinese instrumentalists has grown exponentially. But vocalists are a rare phenomenon and its partly because the repertory is rooted in languages where in order to master it you have to go and live abroad.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHENYANG: (Singing in foreign language)

I think languages can be the most difficult things for us to learn. Even for American, for European people, language is - it's a part of the music for the singer. It's not only like all the diction correct - that's not enough. But, you know, you want to also get the sense of the language, get the great accent of the language and to sing it correctly. That's really hard, especially for Asian people.

HANSEN: Yeah. Youve been working very hard at it.

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah, plus someone helped me a lot for this.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. SHENYANG: But for instrumentalists, they play the notes. They dont have language. The language is the music.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHENYANG: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: We're speaking with opera singer Shenyang. Your name, I mean, you performed under several.

Mr. SHENYANG: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: Shen Yang, Yang Shen, Shenyang - one word.

Mr. SHENYANG: I dont use Yang Shen because my family name actually is Shen, S-H-E-N.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHENYANG: Given name is Yang. But do you know why I cannot use the English name order of my name?

HANSEN: No.

Mr. SHENYANG: Because if we put that order like Yang Shen, that sounds in Chinese is really funny, which means the kidney of goat. So I dont want people call me the kidney of goat for 50 years. You know, it's - I should stop that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHENYANG: So that's why Shirley Yuan(ph), you know, she had this kind of experience a lot. And she told me, I would just suggest you to use one word. Even it feels like a little bit pop.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHENYANG: You know, some pop singers would, like, use a single name. But it's okay. It's a city name. It's easy to pronounce. It's easy to remember and there's nothing strange vowels for you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Yeah, thank you.

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah.

HANSEN: Youve actually been recording for a Chinese label, I believe, FengLin Records.

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah.

HANSEN: And are you interested in doing, like, pop songs? You used to make no difference when you were a kid between opera and pop music, but are you - do you have some crossover ambitions of your own?

Mr. SHENYANG: Actually, my first recording - and it was a commercial recording actually - that was a crossover album, you know.

HANSEN: Ah.

Mr. SHENYANG: I think I recorded when I was 19 years old. That was just for fun. But now I just want to forget that recording.

HANSEN: You want to forget about it?

Mr. SHENYANG: Yeah, because it's not my style.

HANSEN: Yeah, youre an opera singer.

Mr. SHENYANG: And I'm too young for the crossover music so it's...

HANSEN: Really?

Mr. SHENYANG: I dont expect, you know, I can be, Ill be able to be a really, really, really famous singer. But it's not my goal. I just want to - more and more people, or even just someone, or some few people would say I need Shenyang's singing. I need to hear him. That's all.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHENYANG: (Singing in foreign language)

I want music to be something like a food, like a wine or water. You know, you need that.

HANSEN: Bass baritone Shenyang joined us from our New York bureau. He will be appearing in February at the Metropolitan Opera in "La Boheme."

Thank you. Much luck to you.

Mr. SHENYANG: Oh, thank you so much.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHENYANG: (Singing in foreign language)

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