Giving a style of music its debut is no small task. But if the dozens of roses onstage after the performance are any indication, Melissa Osmond’s performance was a success.
Melissa Osmond, teacher of music at Hillsdale College, traveled to Guangzhou, China, this June to perform a soprano opera concert. The concert was, according to many audience members, the city’s first exposure to that style of Western music.
“They treated us like rock stars,” Osmond said. “There was a huge poster that said ‘World Famous Opera Singer!’”
Osmond and her husband Stephen, the music director of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, were guests of the Chinese government during a weeklong trip arranged by Stephen Osmond’s friend, Xie Min, the Jackson Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster.
Stephen Osmond said many people congratulated the Osmonds for being the first Western conductor and opera soprano to perform in Guangzhou, the third-largest city in China.
Xie spent two years planning the trip, arranging for the Chinese government to cover the cost. This included a dinner with the Minister of Culture, sightseeing tours to Xi’an and Beijing, and showers of gifts wherever the Osmonds went.
“Every time we got to a hotel, it was like a scene from ‘Downton Abbey,’” Stephen Osmond said. “The car would pull up and there would be 10 people lined up to greet us and make sure everything was alright. We were treated like royalty. We’ll never have that kind of reception again.”
In their performance at South China Institute of Technology, Melissa Osmond was featured as opera soprano, Stephen Osmond as conductor, and Xie as violinist, along with other soloists and the university student orchestra.
The concert included a lot of Broadway music, as well as opera in the Western tradition, which was new for citizens of a country that has long been closed to Western influence.
Melissa Osmond also taught master classes to 16 opera students, only a few of whom spoke English.
Osmond described the experience of teaching music through a translator to Music Department Chair James Holleman.
“It’s often impossible to use the same metaphors to describe musical concepts in another language,” Holleman said. “She said that the music really transcended that barrier, though.”
Melissa Osmond said that music students and teachers alike thanked her for her expertise.
“The students sing with a Chinese style. It’s very forward.”
But as Melissa Osmond worked with the students, they opened up. She remembered her students saying, “‘Oh, that makes so much sense! That’s so much better!’”
Holleman said he was not surprised at the success of Melissa Osmond’s master classes.
“She’s great at helping students find their correct voice,” he said. “As a performer teaching performing, she’s a great leader of our vocal area here at Hillsdale.”
Just as students learned from Melissa Osmond’s expertise in Western opera, Melissa Osmond’s experiences with Chinese opera were informative, as well. She visited a traditional Chinese opera, which includes acrobats, intricate costumes, and a style of music very distinct from Western music.
Both Stephen and Melissa Osmond appreciated the chance to learn about a new culture.
“They treated us with real warmth,” Stephen Osmond said. “It’s not that we’re superstars, but it’s just a very welcoming, civilized culture and society.”