Published: 11:54, May 22, 2024
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Mozart rocks China
By Gui Qian

The French musical Mozart — L'opera Rock captivates Chinese audiences with its blend of rock and classical music while celebrating the enduring friendship between France and China.

From left to right: Solal stars as Leopold Mozart, Laurent Ban as Salieri, Corentine Collier as Aloysia Weber, Mikelangelo Loconte as Wolfgang Mozart, Noémie Garcia as Constanze Weber, and Sahteene Georges as Nannerl Mozart in the French musical Mozart — L'opéra Rock. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

A French musical has taken Chinese audiences by storm. Starting in Langfang, North China's Hebei province in April and concluding in Tianjin in November, Mozart — L'opera Rock will tour over 20 cities across China, captivating numerous audiences and igniting fan enthusiasm.

This musical is a biographical portrayal of the Austrian composer Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791), chronicling his journey from entering the music scene at 17 to his untimely death at 35.

In addition to Mozart's classical compositions, Mozart — L'opera Rock also incorporates a variety of musical styles, particularly rock elements, giving it a unique, passionate, and modern feel.

This is the story of humanity’s greatest rock star. At least, the first great rock star.

Mikelangelo Loconte, Italian actor

Mozart's approach to life could also be described as "rock". He defied authority and craved freedom. In his short life, he produced countless musical masterpieces. He was an independent musician who dared to rebel against the mainstream.

"This is the story of humanity's greatest rock star. At least, the first great rock star," said Mikelangelo Loconte, who portrays Mozart in the musical.

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He believes that the blend of different musical styles, innovative creativity, and the intensity of the performances resonate with the tastes of China's younger generation. "Chinese people are striving upward and are very open to new things," he said.

2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, and a series of original French musicals are being staged in China to celebrate this milestone. Performing in one of these cultural gifts — Mozart — L'opera Rock — the actors are thrilled to see the musical's popularity in China.

Solal, who plays Mozart's father, Leopold Mozart, attributed the musical's ability to transcend language barriers and connect with Chinese audiences to the universal language of music.

"Music is a language that can be understood by anyone," he said. He also noted that "the friendship between China and France has a long history, and the French language is well-accepted in China".

Laurent Ban, who stars as Salieri, Mozart's rival, described the spirit of this musical with the French phrase "Vivre à en crever" (which translates to "live to death"), signifying a life "full of passion and giving everything one has until the very end".

"Romance is a very prominent concept in this show," he said. "In two hours, audiences witness characters expressing their love and willingness to die for it. In this world of constant work and pursuit of social success, audiences come to this show to experience these emotions through the characters on stage. After the performance, they can return to their daily lives and work until they come back to see the show again."

Li Xinzhu, from Northeast China's Jilin province, is one of the audience members who repeatedly attend the show. Li watched Mozart — L'opera Rock six times in Beijing this May and described the experience as "sweet as a dream".

"Young people in China are no longer satisfied with just having enough to eat and wear; they are pursuing beauty, love, and a life without regrets. This is the feeling that French musicals bring to people," she said.

Li pointed out that French musicals are usually passionate and unrestrained, allowing both actors and audiences to liberate their true selves in the theater.

"I believe people should embrace this vitality and experience these moments of intense, exhilarating emotions. For me, these are the moments that transcend the mundane and elevate life," she said.

Mozart — L'opera Rock premiered in Paris in 2009 and has enjoyed enduring popularity over the past 15 years. Now, a new generation of actors has joined this phenomenal musical. Among those touring China is 23-year-old Yanis Richard, who plays as an alternate for Mozart.

Speaking about the "fresh perspective" he brings to the role, Richard said he aims to "give hope". "Mozart knows what he wants and what he wants to do in his life. Through my performance, I want to showcase a battle about discovering who I am and how I want to live. It's a pursuit of self," he said.

In addition to Mozart, the musical also features several strong and complex female characters.

Mozart's wife, Constanze Weber, is portrayed by French singer and dancer Noémie Garcia. She describes Constanze as embodying a lot of love and having a "family essence". However, Constanze is also a modern woman who worked hard to maintain Mozart's legacy after his death. "She ensured all his scores were published," Garcia noted.

Mozart's first love and Constanze's sister, Aloysia Weber, is described as an "enigmatic" woman. Actress Corentine Collier uses "mysterious" and "sincere" to characterize Aloysia, who is often seen as highly ambitious and seemingly indifferent to love. "She makes people doubt; she never fully reveals herself. We can't quite grasp her," Collier explained.

Mozart's sister, Nannerl, is a talented musician too. Like her brother, she composed and performed extensively but ultimately abandoned her musical career due to family pressures. However, actress Sahteene Georges sees a unique strength in this role — kindness. "Kindness is something that can save someone's day or even someone's life. Nannerl is kind and she doesn't lose that despite the things she goes through," Georges said.

Outside the theater, the collaboration and exchange between the French actors and Chinese artists have also garnered significant attention.

Ban collaborated with a Chinese guzheng artist to perform the song L'assasymphonie from the musical. Reflecting on the fusion of a French musical with a traditional Chinese instrument, he said, "France and China are two of the oldest countries in the world. They have so many interesting points from history and music. We created this video just to symbolize the perfect link for this 60th anniversary of China and France's collaboration."

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He even wants to go further in the future, saying that "the next step will be to sing and act in Chinese".

Solal has already tried singing in Chinese. He performed at China Central Television's 2024 Spring Festival Gala with Chinese artists, singing both in Chinese and French.

"It was one of the most significant experiences I've had on television. Performing and singing in front of half a billion viewers surpassed anything I've done in French TV promotion, and it was amazing," he said. "Chinese people and Chinese singers have a lot to teach us French singers because their way of singing and their way of practicing music is very serious."

Speaking about all the diligence and dedication that French actors have devoted to the musical and other performances in China, Solal said, "It's a job we have to do better and better, to deserve the welcome of the Chinese audience."