Opera grads hitting a high note

Queensland Conservatorium graduateKang Wangwillshow the world his tenor talents when he represents Australia at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition next month.

A remarkable achievement

“I was very happy to be selected,” he says.

“I have applied many times over the past seven years and finally I’m in.

“This is one of the most important singing competitions in the world and it will be great exposure for me – many of the people I’ll be auditioning for from around Europe will be watching.”

Dubbed the Olympics of the opera world, the international showcase features just 20 young singers from around the world.

Held every two years, it has launched the careers of major opera stars, including fellow Queensland Conservatorium alumnus and faculty member Professor Lisa GasteenAO — the only Australian to have ever won the competition.

Kang is preparing a series of blockbuster arias from famous works including Roméo et Juliette, La Bohème and La Traviata.

“I’m having a lot of coaching sessions with my mentors at the Met to prepare for this, working on planning out every last detail of each piece so I can give the most convincing interpretation,” he says.

Taking the path less travelled

Despite both his parents being professional opera singers, a singing career wasn’t Kang’s first choice.

“Until I left high school, I didn’t like opera — I loved rock and roll, and I still love to listen to industrial/heavy metal!” he says.

He initially studied IT and worked as a web developer for a couple of years in Darwin before embarking on a Masters of Music Studies in Opera Performance at the Queensland Conservatorium.

He credits Queensland Conservatorium opera lecturer, Joseph Ward OBE, with starting him on the path to singing stardom.

“Joseph is the main reason that I decided to switch from being a computer programmer to a singer,” he says.

“I had already been studying with him for a year, flying from Darwin to Brisbane every month, before I started at the Con and he really helped me make the transition from an amateur to a professional singer.

“Both technically and mentally, he provided insights into the industry and supported me many years after I left the Con – he always believed in me, even during my most difficult times.”

A brilliant career

After graduating from the Queensland Conservatorium in 2012, the young singer undertook further studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and did a season at OperAvenir at Theatre Basel in Switzerland.

In 2015, he was selected to join New York’s famed Metropolitan Opera, as part of the Lindemann Artist Development Program.

“The Lindemann program at the Met has the training of the highest level, and it has given me the opportunity to meet and work with the most important people in the industry,” he says.

“We receive very intense coaching on interpretation, languages, acting and vocal technique during the season six days a week and get to sing roles at the Met mainstage too which is an invaluable experience.”

He made his Met debut last year in Strauss’s Salome — an experience he describes as “unreal”.

“It was quite a significant role as a debut for a young artist in the program, and I felt honoured to be trusted with it,” he says.

“I received a lot of very nice reviews and it really helped put my name on the radar of people within the opera world.

“Eventually I’d like to sing in all the major opera houses and when the timing is right I’d love to sing roles like Canio from Pagliacci and Cavaradossi from Tosca.”

Following in Kang’s footsteps

Other opera graduates from the Queensland Conservatorium are following in Kang’s footsteps.

Mezzo-soprano Anastasia Bickel graduated last year, and has just signed a 2-year contract with OperAvenir at Theatre Basel in Switzerland.

She will make her professional European debut in La Traviata, and will also perform in iconic operas including Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Strauss’ Elektra.

“This signing means the beginning of my career, so it’s very exciting!” she says.

“I’m thrilledto make my debut on the main stage andto observe my more experienced colleagues at work.

“Kang Wang was one of the Masters students at the Con when I started, and I always admired his artistry and voice. I feel so honoured to be following in his footsteps. Since I was offered the job, wehave been in contact about Basel, and he has been kind enough to give me some advice.”

Anastasia also credits her mentors at the Conservatorium for helping her transition to a professional opera career.

“I owe so much to my supportive and wise singing teacher, Dr Margaret Schindler. She transformed my singing and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be here without her and I will be forever grateful.

“I also have always appreciated the support of Professor Lisa Gasteen, whosecareer inspires many of us at the Con.

“Despite the unbelievable heights she reached on the international stage, she is down to earth and verygenerous with her time and support.”

Fellow Queensland Conservatorium graduate Iain Henderson recently won a scholarship to study his Masters at the Royal Northern College of Music in the UK — also following in the footsteps of Kang Wang.

“Being able to take this next step at a school like RNCM is a big achievement and a huge step towards a professional career,” he says.

“The Conservatorium gave me great preparation — it’s the only institution in Australia that offers students the chance to be in a full production every year.

“A highlight for me was being cast as the understudy to Kang Wang in my first year in a production of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. I was thrown in the deep end with the older, much more developed students and could not be more grateful for that experience.”

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World is televised on the BBC and runs from 11 — 18 June.

Audiences have a chance to catch thecurrent crop of rising opera stars from the Queensland Conservatorium in action at the Val Machin Opera Scenes this week, singing highlights from Mozart and Donizetti.