Born in China but with home in Italy, Hui He 慧和 is one of the most famous performers of Madama Butterfly and Aida: with these and other heroines of the opera she continues to excite the public in the most prestigious theaters in the world. Operafashion met this pleasant artist on the occasion of her debut as Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme at the Festival Puccini in Torre del Lago and we have discovered not only a precious soprano but also a stylist!
Could you describe yourself in a few lines?
I’m an artist, I’m a musician…I live for art and for music. In my daily life I’m not a diva, I’m a normal person: I love to spend time with friends, I love to cook for my friends (I can say that I’m a good cook), going to the cinema, have a walk and painting: that is my second dream!
And your voice?
I’m a soprano lirico-spinto or dramatic soprano. My voice is really flexible and suitable for different roles. I can sing Turandot but also Mimí that I’ll debut on Saturday at Puccini Festival. When I sing I just follow the music and my voice feels so incredibly comfortable and fit for the roles. That is a gift from heaven and I’m so thankful for this!
Where does your passion for singing come from?
I love singing since I was a child, but when I was 18 years old I sang a Chinese song in a school ceremony: my Maths teacher heard me and she brought me to a voice teacher who prepared me for the conservatory. My passion for opera was born when one day I listened to a recording of “La Bohème” and even if I didn’t understand one word I started to cry. I studied at the conservatory and in 1998 I started my career with Aida. My international career started with Tosca at Teatro Regio di Parma. For that debut I studied the role with Raina Kabaivanska, who taught me all the secrets to play this character and how to be a diva on stage.
You excel in performing in Puccini and Verdi’s heroines (Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, Aida, Leonora). Which is your favorite and why?
I can’t choose a favorite role…My voice is suitable for Verdi as for Puccini, but I love also Verismo repertoire: I recently debuted Adriana Lecouvreur in Verona and I’m in love with this role and Cilea’s extraordinary music! Tosca was my Italian debut and my debut at La Scala (I was the first Asian singer ever to play the role there!). Liù in “Turandot” was the role of my debut at Arena di Verona where in August I’ll celebrate the 15th anniversary since my debut in 2005. That is a record, because I’m the only singer in history to have sung at the Arena for fifteen years no stop. Aida was the role of my Metropolitan Opera House debut where I will return for the fifth time in Autumn 2019 with 11 performances of Madama Butterfly alongside Placido Domingo. On November 9 the performance will be broadcast in cinemas all around the world! I’m looking forward to it!
Where you’re thinking about how to play a role: are you thinking about what the composer intended or are you thinking about how to update for a modern audience?
When I study a role I think about what the composers intended to express with their music, but when I’m on stage I just follow the music and I try to convey emotions to the audience. I don’t think there are differences between old and modern audiences. The music is a universal language: it has no limits of language, time or culture.
What’s it like being a superstar soprano from China in what’s normally considered a very “Western” art form?
I live in Italy, in Verona, so a part of me is Italian. I love this country, its culture. Obviously I love my Chinese culture. At the beginning it was so difficult for me to understand the European culture, but opera and music helped me, because they are a universal language. I’m proud of myself as a Chinese woman who has achieved an international career in the biggest opera houses around the world! I love opera and I wish to continue my career, to play and discover new roles and to convey emotions to audiences.
Let’s talk about your relationship with fashion ….
I have my style: I like a very classic style, simple, elegant and romantic. Sometimes I love to design my concert’s dresses. It’s funny to be a fashion designer in some occasions! I love really elegant dresses, often with mermaid silhouette…I love colours: red, sea blue! In 2012 I was interviewed by VOGUE Italia and it was so fun to be a fashion model for one day!
In your closet: one of the clothes you love the most is ….
I don’t have a favourite dress, but all the clothes I have in my closet remind me of some special moments in my life or my career!
What is the fashion detail that makes the difference?
I don’t think that is a particular fashion detail that makes the difference, but I think that what makes the difference in an outfit is the aesthetic. An outfit can be good, but it can’t be the best without a fascinating aesthetic that is made by love for beauty and art!
You have worked with great costume designers: a stage costume you are particularly close…
I love one of the greatest stage directors of our time so much: Hugo de Ana. He always designs the costumes for his opera productions and they’re always amazing! I worked with him for Il Trovatore and Un ballo in maschera in Beijing, but my favourite production by De Ana is Tosca at the Arena di Verona. The costumes are so beautiful! For my 15th anniversary at the Arena I will play Tosca (August 23/29) and Aida (August 31) and I’m looking forward to wear again the wonderful costumes Hugo designed for Floria!
What is your favorite perfume? What opera character would wear your perfume?
My favorite perfume is J’Adore by Dior. I think it’s very suitable for a diva like Tosca!
In 2017 the documentary “Hui He: un soprano dalla Via della Seta” was launched: not only opera singer but also actress! Do you want to describe it to the one who has not yet seen it?
“Hui He: the soprano from the Silk Road” is a docu-film about my life and my journey to the world of opera. It’s directed by Andrea Prandstaller and Niccolò Bruna and it’s produced by Agnese Fontana and Duan Peng. The original idea for this documentary was born while I was singing Aida at Arena di Verona in the 100th Anniversary of the Festival. Director Andrea Prandstaller was filming the movie “MAGICARENA”, that shows all about the backstage and the making of Aida at the Arena. He became so curious about a Chinese singer who performed in the main Italian opera roles in the major opera houses in the world. So he decided to make a docu-film (with fictional scenes that show various episodes of my life) about me and my career. My life in the movie becomes a symbol of the cultural union between China and Europe. I’m in the middle of these two different worlds: I have a Chinese cultural identity and a really European and Italian identity. I’m not really an actress, but in the past I made an appearance in a French documentary by Marie Blanc-Hermeline, “Madame Butterfly: l’empreinte du papillon”, about my Butterfly in Torre del Lago. I was also Aida in the first-ever opera broadcast in 3D all around the world from the Arena di Verona!
Your long-cherished dream…
My biggest dream – being an opera singer – has already come true. All the things that will follow are gifts from heaven.
Photo: Javier del Real, Ennevi, Stefano Galuzzi