The Lamont School of Music has named Chinese opera luminary Hao Jiang Tian (MA ’87) as the recipient of its inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award. Now in his 60s, Tian has sung more than 1,400 performances of 50 operatic roles worldwide. A regular at New York’s Metropolitan Opera for 20 years, he has appeared with such legendary opera stars as Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, Renée Fleming and Anna Netrebko, among others.
Nominated for a 2008 Grammy for Best Opera Recording, Tian also penned an autobiography, “Along the Roaring River: My Wild Ride From Mao to the Met,” that was the basis of a 2009 PBS special. More recently, he founded the ISing! International Young Artists Festival, an initiative that helps young vocalists develop their singing careers.
Below are excerpts from an email interview the University of Denver Magazine conducted with Tian.
Q: How did you come to study at Lamont? Had you been to the U.S. prior to studying there?
A: In 1982, a friend helped me apply to music conservatories in the States. I sent applications to five different conservatories, but only Lamont accepted me with free tuition. I think I was among the first 10 Chinese singers who came to the States to study voice during the early ’80s. Frankly, I knew nothing about opera. I loved adventure and wanted to come to this country to study.
Q: How were you first introduced to opera?
A: The first opera I saw was on the first day I arrived in New York — Dec. 17, 1983 — at the Metropolitan Opera. I was blown away by how beautiful the Met opera house was. The opera was “Ernani,” conducted by James Levine, starring Luciano Pavarotti. It was so beautiful that I will never forget my first impression seeing an opera. It was impossible to dream that I could ever sing on the same stage with Pavarotti, which I did exactly 10 years later, on Dec 17, 1993, in Verdi’s opera “I Lombardi” at the Met.
Q: When you look back at your time at Lamont, did you have any inkling that you would achieve the success you went on to enjoy?
A: I never thought of being successful, because on the first day I started at Lamont, I began my job washing dishes in the student union. The only thing in my mind was to survive; I had no money and did not know English. But I was happy because it was a beautiful snowy day; the snow was deep, clean and quiet. I had never seen it in my life.