Lady of a thousand songs

Updated: 2012-01-08 15:15

By Pauline D. Loh (China Daily)

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Lady of a thousand songs

Song Zuying's New Year Charms of China concerts rounded off a multi-city tour of the country. Provided to China Daily

Song Zuying's artistry is undisputed. As the country's most famous folk soprano, she has become an ambassador of folk heritage in China and abroad. Pauline D. Loh attended her latest concert in Beijing.

Her voice soars, and its pureness and clarity is enough to bring tears to the eyes, especially when she sings regional folk songs that tug at the heartstrings of the homesick.

Song Zuying is also totally professional, and you can tell she gives her all to each and every song.

Her dedication is infectious, and the audience cannot help but reward her with its undivided attention.

Yes, that's true even in China, where concertgoers tend to treat the venue as a party place rather than as an altar to the arts.

On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, Song rounded up a multi-city tour around China with two concerts in Beijing at the MasterCard Center.

It was also a reunion of sorts, and her guests onstage and in the VIP seats were there to celebrate with her.

Among them were her mentors at the Central Institute of Nationalities in Beijing, where she had majored in vocal arts and dance.

Her opening act was the Star Way talent quest winner, September Miracle - a duet who had charmed their way to the finals with an innovative style that mixes traditional folk and modern beats.

September Miracle keyboardist Wang Xiaowei had confessed to being a fan of Song's since she was barely out of primary school, and when Song found out, she invited the duet to join her at the Beijing concerts.

As September Miracle warmed up the audience with the up-tempo Love Song from Kangding and then morphed into Song's signature Spice Girls, the audience sat up, certain that was the cue for Song to appear.

She did, and immediately launched into a lively duet with Wang Xiaowei, who was endearingly tongue-tied when it came time to chat with her idol.

Song regained solo command of the stage and gave the audience what they wanted - familiar folk songs from a repertoire that had also captivated audiences in Washington's Kennedy Arts Center, the hallowed Golden Hall of Vienna and the Sydney Opera House.

In Flying Song from the Miao Mountain, she did a duet with the wind instruments in the orchestra and proved once again that her voice was God-gifted.

And again, in Dragon Boat Song, she interacted with her audience, inviting them to respond when she asked: "Who would ferry me across the river?"

The concert was a journey back to the successes of Song's last year.

In May 2011, she had sung to an appreciative audience in Taipei, and among her guests was a group of children from the hill tribes. She invited them to Beijing and this time, they appeared on stage with her again.

Both songs she sang with the children were tributes to motherhood - My Noble Mother and Little Back Basket.

The latter, especially, was memorable in that it was with this song that Song entrenched herself in the national consciousness during an early Spring Festival concert.

Although the concert was long, with no intermission, there was no time to be bored.

After the children went offstage, it was time for Song's next guest - a celebrity in his own right, Liu Huan.

Liu had sung with Sarah Brightman at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just as Song had performed a duet with Placido Domingo at the closing ceremony.

Liu was familiar enough with the chanteuse to call her "little Song" and it was obvious they were both kindred spirits and good friends.

Their styles are vastly different, and Liu's nasal tenor and easy, unaffected style was a pleasant foil to Song's elaborate costumes, down to the fluttering blue butterfly on her shoulder.

It was amusing to note that Liu had refused to don a suit for the Beijing Olympics, insisting on wearing his signature black turtleneck jumper. But for Song's concert, he did her the honor of wearing a shimmering jacket, over that black jumper.

After Liu left the stage, we knew the concert was drawing to an end - but not before Song reminded us of her naval background. She was an artiste with China's Army Naval Song and Dance Troupe in her early days. Although she no longer participates in the activities full time, Song still retains the reservist post of Rear Admiral.

It is in her white uniform that she appears onstage to sing Soldiers from the East, West, North and South, a tribute to the troops posted along the country's frontiers.

And finally, she whips up the patriotic spirit with a rousing rendition of Love My China, the song with which she also ended performances in Washington and Vienna.

Song does not leave her audience shortchanged, and we leave satisfied that the artiste had given her best. Yes, her weariness had appeared briefly when she skipped a phrase, but she had quickly recovered and plunged into a spirited ending.

The concerts were both an end and a beginning. But we know Song and her songs - they will be evergreen.