Listen: 'I Sing Beijing' Makes Opera a Universal Language

The performance of the Chinese opera Baimaonu was stunning. It wasn’t just the technical execution of the popular Chinese opera. It was also because the soprano, Katie Bolding, is from Arcadia, Oklahoma.

In the summer of 2011, young singers from Albania, Brazil, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, China, and the U.S. performed at the world-class National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing before an international audience. The singers are fresh graduates from I Sing Beijing — an intensive summer study that combined Chinese language and opera repertoire.

On February 16, I Sing Beijing makes its U.S. debut onstage at Lincoln Center, presented in association with Asia Society, for what will undoubtedly be a special evening celebrating music from East and West.

I had an opportunity to speak with a few I Sing Beijing performers who were gathering in New York ahead of the Lincoln Center performance. Each of them underscores how this experience has changed their careers and lives. Without exception, they point to the summer in Beijing. To live and learn with a group of young Chinese artists led them to recognize just how similar they are in the love for music and their pursuit of excellence in performance.

Sheila Carroll, of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, reflected that learning about Chinese operas is "like discovering a parallel universe so rich with musical treasures that it's almost hard to imagine living without it."

As much as I Sing Beijing enriches the lives of individual participants, it is also a hallmark of collaboration between Americans and Chinese.

Collaboration is often thought of as an effective means to solve a problem. U.S.-China collaboration may conjure up an image of a global supply chain that builds iPhones plenty cheap. It’s also collaboration, for example, that drives hungry wolves to form a pack to hunt for prey. But collaboration can be far more than coming together for necessity and efficiency (e.g., taxation and defense). We are capable of and are enraptured by sharing what we love and yearn for.

Just as compelling and addictive as sports diplomacy or massive multiplayer games, I Sing Beijing is a sound chamber where passions of young people from Beijing to Brazil can clash and resonate with one another.

Listen for yourself on February 16 at Alice Tully Hall. Learn more at

About the Author

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Jeff Wang is the director for Education and Chinese Language Initiatives. He focuses on increasing awareness and capacity among educators and policymakers to create and advocate for language learning, partnerships, and exchanges.