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Special> 35 Years of Reform and Opening Up (1978-2013)> People
UPDATED: December 11, 2013
A Life in Song
By Corrie Dosh

VERDI'S KING PHILLIP II: Hao Jiang Tian has performed in some of the world's greatest opera houses in France, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Chile, Japan and China (BONINI)

On December 17, 1983, a 29-year-old man from Beijing with a big voice and even bigger dreams stepped off the plane at New York's John F. Kennedy airport. He had $35 in his pocket and knew only a few words in English. On his second night in the Big Apple, he spent $8 on a ticket to see the opera Ernani, starring famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti, at the Metropolitan Opera. He knew from that moment that his destiny was to be an opera singer.

Thirty years later to the day, the man that stepped off that plane -Hao Jiang Tian- will take the stage at Carnegie Hall to celebrate an unbelievable career spanning 19 years at the Metropolitan Opera and performances at many of the world's greatest opera houses. He has even performed opposite Pavarotti in Verdi's Lombardi, coming full circle from a self-described "wild child" to achieve international greatness.

"This concert is very special to me," Tian told Beijing Review. "Every single recital is personal but relatable to everyone. We all feel the same thing--happy, sad, and passionate. I feel the audience will sing with you, they will breathe with you; they will think with you and share the song with you. I always like to give recitals because you are facing hundreds of beautiful eyes. You can see a lot from those eyes. Opera houses are a little bit different."

The comparatively intimate setting of Carnegie Hall will foster what Tian said is the best part of performing, connecting with the audience and sharing its energy.

"I think the greatest enjoyment for me as a singer is feeling the qi (spirit) in the hall," Tian said. "No matter if it's big or small, the qi will be there."

In 2008, Tian adapted his autobiography Along the Roaring River: My Wild Ride from Mao to the Met into a one-man musical show, weaving story and song together as he told tales of playing the accordion and singing rebellious love songs for fellow workers at the factory he was assigned to during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). The 30th anniversary recital this month will focus more on singing rather than storytelling, Tian said, but his irrepressible talent for connecting with an audience promises a few gems from his remarkable life.

"I could never have dreamed up what my life would be. I just wanted a new world, a new environment and a new life. I'm not quiet. I wanted to try something different and I was curious," Tian said.

The recital features five parts: Chinese art songs, operatic arias, songs from his childhood and a conclusion featuring Tian's latest project: I Sing Beijing. The exchange program gives young and promising singers trained in Western opera an opportunity to learn classic Chinese songs and Mandarin as a lyrical language. Tian will be joined by singers from the program on stage for the final act of the recital.

"All of the songs are related to my singing career. For example, the aria I chose was the very first aria I learned in Beijing. I knew nothing about the opera," Tian said, adding that he had an opportunity to sing for a master opera singer from Italy, who assigned him Guiseppe Verde's Ella giammai m'amò from Don Carlo.

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