Text: Naomi Teekens
As a child, she was a big fan of Céline Dion and sang along to Mariah Carey cassettes. Her supple, lyrical voice led her to a prestigious conservatory in her native China and then to the renowned Juilliard School in New York. In recent years she has built up a warm relationship with Dutch National Opera.
Ying Fang is not new to the role of Pamina in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, and yet every time she performs the role of the Queen of the Night’s daughter is a fresh experience: ‘Pamina grows with me, and I with her. It’s only really now that she’s on the musical, dramatic and emotional level where I want her to be. Over the years you grow as a singer and as a person. Aside from the technical dimension, it’s mainly about exploring the emotional side of the role and deepening my interpretation. Every time I sing this role I discover something new. It’s so enriching to be able to return to the character. I’m getting to know Pamina better, and also myself.'
A new adventure
The role of Poppea in Handel’s Agrippina is a part she has never performed before, but it is a character that holds a lot of appeal: ‘I love how she celebrates herself. She’s a light-hearted figure who brings some comic relief to the serious drama. There’s also a completely different side to her. For example, she fights for justice when she finds out that Agrippina lied to her. To me, she’s the embodiment of conscience in this opera: it’s ultimately her sense of justice that leads to the downfall of the ambitious empress. It will be a great adventure for me to present this character in all her complexity.’
‘The magic happens when you enter into a dialogue with the audience’
Her musical approach to the two roles differs: ‘The elegant melodic lines that Mozart created for Pamina are beautiful and well-suited to my voice. It’s music that simply asks to be performed as written – everything is notated in detail. Handel’s music for Poppea is a different story. The piece is full of da capo arias, full of repetition, which gives me a certain freedom as an artist to put my own spin on things. Singing must never be allowed to become just a technical exercise. The magic happens when you can enter into a dialogue with the audience. I can spend hours perfecting a single measure, and yet that measure only really comes to life when I share the music with others. I feel blessed to make my debut in this role at Dutch National Opera, which is one of my artistic homes.’
Ying Fang made her DNO debut at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and returned to the company for Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle and as Ännchen in Weber’s Der Freischütz. With her crystalline voice and disarming stage personality, she became an audience favorite.