Now a guest artist in same role, same opera, same set, same stage, ten years later
By Peter Alexander Oct. 20 at 10:10 p.m.
Wei Wu left Beijing in 2008, a young bass singer with his eyes on a career in opera. The first place he came outside of China was Colorado, to study with Julie Simpson at the CU-Boulder College of Music.
He remained in Boulder for five years, singing in most productions during those years, and graduated with a master’s degree in 2013. The first full opera role he sang anywhere was on the Macky stage, in the role of Colline in Puccini’s La Bohéme.
This weekend he returns to the Macky stage, in the role of Colline in Puccini’s La Bohéme—and in the very same set as ten-plus years ago! (You can read about the opera and the current production here.) He will appear in all three performances presented by the Eklund Opera program, Friday through Sunday (Oct. 21–23; details below).
“It’s been like 10 years and that was the first production I did, and I’m so happy to be back,” Wu says. “Boulder has been so special to me and to my wife too, because Colorado is the first state I came to. I just love Colorado.”
Indeed, he loves Colorado so much that he has moved back to Boulder permanently. His operatic career is well established, he has an agent who can land roles for him with opera companies around the country, his wife has a job in Boulder, and he still has many friends here who are “more like a family member to us,” he says. After several years in New York, he was happy to return to a place he loves.
Leigh Holman, the director of the Eklund Opera Program and stage director for La Bohéme is equally happy to have him here. “It’s been great for the students for him to work right alongside of them,” she says. “They have the opportunity to ask him questions and get to know him as a person, but also ask him about his experiences as a young artist.”
Wu’s experiences after leaving CU have been a model for rising young singers. After graduating, he landed a position in the Domingo Young Artist Program at Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. From D.C. he moved to New York for several years, in order to be close to auditions and agents that could help him launch into the professional world.
He sang with several companies, but his breakthrough came in 2017 when he sang the role of Kōbun, Steve Jobs’s guru, in the world premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by Mason Bates at the Santa Fe Opera. I reviewed that production on the Sharpsandflatirons blog, writing that he “sang with a deep resonant bass as Kōbun. In a role filled with both wisdom and wry humor, he captured the changing nuances perfectly.” (See the full review here.)
“That was my career turning point, singing in Santa Fe,” Wu says. “The world premiere brought me many other world premieres, doing more new operas. And on that they did a live recording that won the Grammy!”
His Chinese family has come to visit him in Colorado, but he has not been able to return to Beijing since the pandemic hit. His family played a large role in his interest in music: his grandfather played trumpet in jazz bands in the 1950s, and when he was growing up in the ‘80s, his father had cassette recordings of classical music.
Wu admits to a certain amount of culture shock when he first arrived in the US, and credits Holman with helping him adjust. “She was definitely one of my big mentors during my student years, who opened up my mind and helped me develop a lot,” he says. “She gave me a lot of opportunities to touch something as me.”
His sang roles that certainly were not stereotyped for an Asian singer, including Jigger in Carousel and the sexually predatory southern preacher Olin Blitch in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. Asked about his mastery of Southern English, he said that he has a good ear for accents, then sang out, “Howdy Brethren and sisters!” with a good touch of twang.
After the production of Bohéme in Macky, Wu has some exciting professional engagements coming up. Next will be Tosca in Los Angeles in November and December, and Bellini’s Norma at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in February and March. And The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs continues to pay dividends: he will sing in a new production that was co-commissioned by several companies around the country, including the Utah Opera, where you can see him May 6–14, 2023 in Salt Lake City.
Now that he lives in Boulder, there may be more guest appearances with the Eklund Opera as well. “As long as the schedule works out, I would love to,” he says.
# # # # #
Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
CU Eklund Opera, Leigh Holman, stage director
Nick Carthy, conductor
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct.21, and Saturday, Oct. 22
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23