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Culture Vulture

Update: November, 12/2008 - 00:00

Culture Vulture


Nguyen Bich Thuy, a 30-year-old lecturer at the Viet Nam National Academy of Music, won fourth prize at the China International Vocal Competition last month in Ningbo City, China. She took home Best Performer in the Chinese song category.
This isn’t her first award for a major competition. She also won first prize at the Bangkok Vocal Opera Competition in Thailand in 2002. Thuy has just finished her master’s degree in South Korea. Culture Vulture finds out more.

Veteran artist Trung Kien said this is the first time a Vietnamese opera singer has won a prize at the contest. Was it a big surprise for you and do you think your win will make a difference for Vietnamese musicians?

I don’t think I’ve made a big difference for Vietnamese music. But it is a big step in my career. I was very surprised. The competition is held every three years in China, with a different theme each time. This year was opera.

I was selected among 200 contestants from 26 different countries including Russia, Italy, Germany, the US, Japan and South Korea.

Seventy contestants went into the second round. There were some excellent artists among the other contestants, like Andrew Marie Moore (US). He won first prize in the competition Placido Domingo. There was also Russian singer Znev Dmitri, who is a soloist at the opera theatre Balsoi and two Chinese singers Xie Tian and Ke Luwa, who won second prizes for male vocal and female vocal in the last competition three years ago.

Could you tell more about how you prepared for the competition and how you got to the final round?

I didn’t have much time to prepare for the competition because I was busy with other things. I had to perform 13 pieces and was accompanied by an orchestra for the final round.

Luckily, I did manage to practise some of the pieces a lot beforehand and others I prepared during my studies in South Korea so I was confident when I entered the competition.

All contestants had to sing romance, aria, concert aria from different genres like classic, romance, and contemporary. We were also asked to perform one Chinese song.

Only 12 singers got through to the third round, which is split into two categories, one for men and one for women. On the bus on the way back to the hotel I heard one contestant from Canada saying the Vietnamese contestant was amazing.

Most of the Canadian contestants failed to get through to the second round. I got to the final round, but five out of seven Russian contestants and three out of four American contestants had to go home.

What were your biggest challenges during the competition?

Not having Vietnamese accompanists. Having a good orchestra is the most important thing for an opera singer. It decides half the performance. The musicians are very skilful but of course they are not as enthusiastic as Vietnamese musicians when playing our music. My teacher and I were very nervous about it. I was determined to do my best at singing.

There were other problems. I can’t eat too much salty food. It makes my throat too dry and hardens my vocal chords. I have to use a technique to get enough saliva in my mouth when I take a breath to sing another sentence.

Contestants weren’t allowed to use microphones for the competition in a theatre that seats 1,000.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment I teach at the Viet Nam National Academy of Music. As well as working at the academy, I usually perform to improve my skills and get experience for teaching. Yesterday I performed at the Toyota Classic with Vienna Operetta Orchestra at Ha Noi Opera House.

I want to have a chance to compete at the international competition before I’m too old. And I really want to get a scholarship in Europe – the cradle of opera – and learn more about my passion. This is my biggest dream, I hope it will come true. — VNS

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