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La Traviata: Music for the Masses

By Paul Kay

Given her effusive enthusiasm for the art form, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that banker-turned-patron-of-the-arts Rumiko Hasegawa’s first brush with opera was less than memorable. “It wasn’t a great experience,” recalls the former partner at Goldman Sachs of the evening some 30 years ago. Indeed, although she continued to attend productions with her opera-loving husband, it wasn’t until 20 years later that Hasegawa’s love of opera would be ignited, after a friend suggested she should take up classical singing as a hobby. This time around, it was an encounter that would change her life.

“I realised that singing opera every week and practicing at home, I had so much emotion coming out,” remembers Hasegawa. “It was almost like I had a lid on my heart, but once it was lifted, it was like ‘wow’. I felt complete and so much comprehension of myself. It was like an emotional outlet, something that I hadn’t done for a while.”

Suitably galvanised, Hasegawa’s appreciation for opera grew rapidly and, after moving to Hong Kong from Tokyo and retiring from banking, she joined the board of Opera Hong Kong, where she chaired the marketing and audience development committee. Through this experience, she became fascinated with the idea of using the power of opera to connect the community, a notion that ultimately inspired her to launch the charity More Than Musical (MTM), which will debut its first production, La Traviata, at ArtisTree on June 17 and 18.

Co-founded with classically trained musician and arts administrator Lucy Choi Ting-ting, and drawing on the talents of opera director Nic Muni and artistic director Wei-En Hsu, MTM aims to reduce the intimidation factor that can be associated with the genre, and to attract the kind of people who wouldn’t normally go see an opera – especially a younger audience. To do this, they are staging their productions in more casual and intimate settings, and reducing the often-gargantuan running times to a lean 90 minutes.

“We wanted to share a beautiful art form with the community, to create a harmony in the community,” says Hasegawa. “That’s what performance art should be. It’s a communication between performer and audience created together.”

Usually employing a cast of between 30 and 50 people, La Traviata by MTM will feature only five singers in its all-Asian cast, with just two musicians – a pianist and a violinist – accompanying them. This format gives audiences the opportunity to experience opera at closer quarters and in greater detail, making it more accessible to novices while offering a fresh take on the genre for aficionados. “We don’t work on the spectacle that [opera traditionalists] love to see, but we focus on the drama and the quality of the music is very, very high,” says Hasegawa.
“La Traviata is about family, love, sacrifice, and conflict. Everybody has experienced something like that. ”
Ultimately, Hasegawa believes that the beauty of opera is something that can be enjoyed by everyone, and she hopes that MTM’s stripped-down productions will change the perception of opera in Hong Kong for the better and help the art form shed its often stuffy, elitist image. Citing the plot of La Traviata by way of example, Hasegawa points out that, although it is a story from another time and another place, its themes remain universal. “It’s about family and it’s about love and sacrifice, and conflict,” she says. “Everybody has experienced something like that.

Tickets have now SOLD OUT for La Traviata at the new ArtisTree from 17-18 June.
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