The lost art of bel canto—Italian for “beautiful singing”—will be revived on stage at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence, R.I., on Oct. 31, ending the month and season tour of Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra. But there is a twist: the vocalists will be performing original compositions with lyrics in Chinese.
Bel canto is characterized by a beauty and evenness in tone, sometimes called the soul of music in its expression. Today, that genuine upper-range technique is rarely found anywhere in the world.
The revival of this ancient technique on a modern stage encapsulates Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra’s aspirations. The orchestra pays tribute to both grand traditions of Western classical music and ancient Chinese music with a program and ensemble that blends East and West. According to Shen Yun, the choice comes from the belief that, like many enduring traditions, these two schools of music are truly divine gifts.
Ancient Chinese theater and early European opera actually shared the same singing technique, according to Shen Yun’s website, which is believed to produce the most beautiful and pure vocal tone.
Audience members from the past eleven concerts in Symphony Orchestra’s 2015 tour certainly agree.
“It vibrates, it vibrates in your soul,” said author Deborah Elizabeth Merriman after a performance at Atlanta’s Woodruff Arts Center, Symphony Hall on Oct. 27. Ms. Merriman could feel the music in every fiber of her body.
“I feel the violas, I feel the violin, I feel the male vocals, I feel the female vocals, and I’m at home,” she said.
Musician Dana Ballard, who is the director of orchestras at the Mill Creek High School in Atlanta, saw the same performance and got chills from the voices of sopranos Min Jiang and Geng Haolan, and tenor Tian Ge.
“The sopranos, they sent chills through us with the high notes they can hit, and the tenors, so beautiful—just everything,” Ms. Ballard said. “Such high quality, so special.”
The solo vocalists are accompanied by a full western orchestra that manages to produce a distinctly Chinese sound. Another unique feature, evident in the other pieces performed, is that Chinese instruments like the pipa (Chinese lute) and erhu (a two-stringed Chinese violin) play alongside the Western instruments and harmonize seamlessly.
In Philadelphia, “the energy was palpable,” said Tom Bostock, who works in sales, during intermission of the concert at Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center on Oct. 25.
“It’s very enlightening, very in sync with the spirit,” said psychologist John Livil, who attended the same performance. The emotions the singers brought forth carried the idea of enlightenment, he thought.
“The lightness of the music … touches your soul. It’s very gentle,” Mr. Livil said.
Some got chills and goosebumps listening to the music. Others felt sheer joy, and excitement. There was also a sense of hope and soulfulness for many.
There was a general consensus that it was the experience of a lifetime, and something not easily put into words.
“It felt like you could spiritually travel,” said Anthony Thompson of the concert at the Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. “This is like a portal, it takes you somewhere.”
“Between heaven and earth, that’s where you go. Between heaven and earth,” said Mr. Thompson.
New York-based Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra comprises musicians from the four Shen Yun Performing Arts touring companies. Shen Yun Performing Arts begins its 2016 world tour on Dec. 22, 2015.
The Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time and has covered audience reactions since the company’s inception in 2006.