Sporting past gives tenor a head start

By Chen Nan| (China Daily)| Updated : 2023-09-18

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Tenor Han Peng plays Xiangzi, the leading role in the Chinese opera Rickshaw Boy, based on the classic novel of the same title by Lao She (1899-1966) produced by the NCPA in 2014. 

Discipline and talent combine onstage for a pulsating performance, Chen Nan reports.

Han Peng was born and raised in a small village in Zhangqiu district in Jinan, East China's Shandong province. His family made a living by farming.

Tall and strong, Han was trained to become a field athlete and competed since childhood in the javelin.

"My life was all about competing and throwing the javelin. I got up before 5 am and started my day by running 10 laps around the school playground," recalls Han, who was listed as a national-level athlete.

When he was 17, Han volunteered to sing a song during the school's year-end gala. His voice not only amazed his classmates and teachers but also himself.

"I loved singing but I never had a chance to sing in front of so many people, who gave me great applause. I didn't know I could sing and sing well," says Han. "One of my teachers joked that, 'Han Peng should become a singer', and I took the joke seriously. I really enjoyed the feeling of performing onstage. And this small voice came in me and said, 'be a singer'."

However, it seemed to be an impossible dream.


Han stars in the Chinese opera Sandalwood Death. CHINA DAILY

"I had never seen a piano before I was 17 and I had no idea about music," says Han. "My parents were very supportive, though they didn't know if I could make it.

"It was a bold decision but I was determined to give it a try," he adds.

Han found vocal teachers with the help of his school, and the next year, he enrolled in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

"I can still remember how hard I trained for the entrance exam after I applied to the conservatory. I woke up early in the morning and went to bed at midnight, the way I trained for my sports competitions," says Han.

His life changed and being a tenor is "a new kind of game" for Han, who now is an acclaimed opera singer.

Han has been singing with the National Centre for the Performing Arts for years, and gained a fan base with his roles in both Chinese and Western operas, such as that of Xiangzi, a poor young man from the countryside who comes to Beijing to become a rickshaw puller, the leading role in the Chinese opera Rickshaw Boy, based on the classic novel of the same title by Lao She (1899-1966), and Prince Calaf in Puccini's opera Turandot.

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