Friday, January 13,2012: Lucky Day

WeiLong Tao remembers his long journey from rural China to the world's opera stages

Opera’s Lucky Day

WeiLong Tao had a tormenting dream as a boy in China: he hoped someday to find work. When he dared dream bigger, he hoped the work would be in a factory.

Well, the boy from a village near Shanghai has indeed found successful work: as a tenor singing opera on major stages from California to La Scala — and all over Europe, including on the Czech National Theatre stage in Prague. He’s currently starring as Don Gaston Viratos, an impish cupid, in Karl Maria Von Weber and Gustav Mahler’s comic opera Tři Pintové (The Three Pintos).

The way to music for Mr Tao was as unpredictable as the mistaken-identity plot of Tři Pintové is predictable. It all came down to the lucky day he was discovered. “I was a rough boy growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution,” Mr Tao tells Opus Osm. “I had no education, no manners … but I got in touch with music, and somehow it refined me,” he reflects.

A visiting American professor heard Mr Tao sing at age 18, and took him to Southern California right after the crash of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. “It was something out of reality,” he recalls. He entered college and “my professor kept telling me I was destined for the opera. More and more the idea became fixed in my mind.”

Luckily for opera, from there he studied at the Juilliard Opera in New York, and then went straight to a multi-year stint at the International Opera Studio in Zurich. He performed the role of Calaf in Turandot at La Scala, and two years ago earned the prestigious Czech Thalia Award for his Hoffman in Tales of Hoffmann.

Gaston and Ambrosio confidently hatch plans in The Three Pintos (Tří Pintové)

His role as the main protagonist in Tři Pintové is “vocally challenging,” he admits, because not only is he on stage for most of the opera, he also has to sing in a wide range, “from low, to high C – there’s plenty of coloratura,” or fancy, colorful singing, in this opera.

It seems Mr Tao’s original dream of a factory job has been enlarged just a tad. And it keeps growing. Someday he’d like to sing major roles in Miami, Los Angeles, New York … At the Met? we ask. After all, he was a finalist at their national auditions. “Why not?” he says, a smile lighting up his face. “The competition would be very tough, though,” he adds. “For the time being I’m enjoy being here in the Czech Republic. This (State Opera) is a fantastic house, and my colleagues are very professional.”

He thinks again about singing at the Met, and adds, “ … but … I’m working on it.”

The next performances of Tři Pintové are scheduled Jan 17, Feb 7, Mar 7, and May 31. The opera was described in our article “Fun at the Opera” Mon, Jan 9. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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