See our interview with Madam Butterfly star Li LiBy Caroline Cook
February 05, 2013
Rehearsals for Park Opera’s spring performance of Madam Butterfly are well under way.
Caroline Cook caught up with the show’s star, Li Li.
When classical superstar Andrea Bocelli starts playing the piano with just a handful of people in the room, are you meant to sing along or do you keep quiet?
“He looked like he was going to stop and I thought, ‘no way’, so I started singing,” says Chinese-born soprano Li Li.
“He played Un Bel Di Vedremo, from Madam Butterfly, from the beginning right through to the end, the whole five minutes, and it was wonderful.”
The impromptu performance at the O2 came about by chance in December last year.
“He was performing at the O2 and I went along, because my manager knows his manager,” explains Li Li.
“About 15 minutes before the concert started his manager came to us and asked if we would like to meet him, so we went to his dressing room.
“My manager said, ‘this is Li Li. She’s an opera singer and she has done Madam Butterfly recently’, and we shook hands and he just started to play the piano.”
Li Li will be taking the role of Cio Cio San, in Park Opera’s production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly in February, having previously performed as part of the chorus in Raymond Gubbay’s production at the Royal Albert Hall.
“Butterfly is a very strong character, not only for singing but because you are the title role of the whole opera,” she says.
“You also have to be able to control the emotion. As an actor you already know the story and the ending, but you have to be able to control it from the beginning and pretend you don’t know what happens.”
Having first started singing opera at 15, Li Li is used to keeping her feelings under control when she performs emotive pieces.
“I started to learn music when I was 15, which is actually quite old,” she says. “A lot of people learn from a very young age but I ended up starting by chance. I was just singing at home and my mother said, ‘Li Li, how about you go to study music?’.
“That week, she called a singing teacher at a school next to our home and they offered me an audition.
“Although I was successful in getting into the school, after a year, for lots of reasons, the school kicked me out.” With her parents’ support, Li Li joined another musical college and went on to become the star pupil before graduating with distinction at the Birmingham Conservatoire.
Li Li has performed extensively in both England and China but says attitudes to opera vary between the countries.
“I would say the biggest difference is the language,” she says.
Many of the great operas have been translated into English but only a few have been translated into Chinese.
“I think in the UK opera is bigger because the language is understood and also music is part of the culture here,” continues Li Li.
“Opera is still quite new for China. It’s only been there about 20 or 30 years, so when Chinese people actually listen to it they are listening to the technicalities of it. They will hear whether your voice is nice but the language is not easy to understand.”
Li Li is looking forward to performing with Park Opera next month and has enjoyed joining the Bracknell-based group for rehearsals.
“The difficult thing is that every time you join a different company, you have to meet new people and make new friends,” she says. “It’s the first time I have worked with Park Opera and I’m enjoying it very much.
“Everyone is friendly and positive and that is exactly what I was looking for.”
n Park Opera’s Madam Butterfly runs from Wednesday, February 13, to Saturday, February 16, at South Hill Park in Bracknell. It will be sung in English with full orchestra. Tickets start from £18. To book, visit www.parkopera.org.uk.