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Unique night at the CEIBS opera gala

BY any measure, the concert a few weeks ago at the Shanghai Grand Theatre was a star-studded event. The list of performers read like a Who's Who of Chinese opera singers.

Topping the bill was Wei Song, one of the most famous opera performers in China, followed by Liao Changyong who Placido Domingo has praised as the "most outstanding baritone I have seen."

Then there was Wang Liqin, renowned soprano and first-rate actress, Dong Mingxia, actress and singer, and Zhu Qiuling, one of the most outstanding mezzo-sopranos in China.

They were delivering a musical program of 13 numbers titled "Inside the Opera House" consisting of excerpts from some of the world's most popular operas by the creme of international composers.

By any measure, from the quality of performers and the popularity of the items to be performed, this was a concert event that could expect to run for weeks.

Yet it only happened once, was performed for a select audience and there was no charge to attend.

"Inside the Opera House" was put on as a "treat" for 1,600 professors, staff members, students, alumni, VIP guests and sponsors of the Pudong-based China Europe International Business School, otherwise known as CEIBS, the No. 1 business school in China last year.

But what led the institution preparing students for the hard-nosed business world to make such a deviation from its everyday raison d'etre, to present "an extraordinary opera gala featuring a constellation of famous stars" as President of CEIBS, Professor Zhu Xiaoming, said on the night.

"Over the past 15 years, CEIBS has created a community of alumni and students who have become - or are on their way to becoming - talented and influential business leaders," he elaborated.

"But while they clearly show impressive expertise in economics and management, did you know that they are also knowledgeable in culture and the arts?" he asked.

The concert can be seen as a metaphor of the levels of excellence aspired to, and indeed already attained, by the university which each year admits roughly 190 MBA and 650 EMBA students and consistently lists highly in Financial Times and Forbes rankings.

Zhu is a principal driver of the concert concept - the inaugural event was held in January last year - and this year it was designed and directed by Wang Liqin, former director of the opera troupe within Shanghai Opera House.

CEIBS assistant president, Snow Zhou, attests to Zhu's involvement.

"The school established a special work team and President Zhu paid a lot of attention to this concert," he said. "He especially invited well-known singers like Liao and Wei to perform. President Zhu himself also likes opera very much. I remember he once sang songs from 'Phantom of the Opera' or 'Lion King' during some of our school's activities."

Planning of the concert occurred over a couple of months and there were many rehearsals, Zhou said, " to achieve the perfect outcome."

And perfect it was, from the choice of program, to the smooth compering of Dragon TV personality Ms Chen Rong, and the understated selling of CEIBS in a short "2008 Review" video.

Professor Zhu and his CEIBS colleagues let their overwhelming message of excellence come from the toned and honed voices of the stars, who lulled guests first with Delibes' "Lakme" before tripping them through Bizet's "Carmen," Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" and "Tosca," Verdi's "La Traviata" and Rossini's "Barber of Seville."

Yet it was at the end when the stars became choristers and the big voices of three tenors Wei, Liao and Lei Wei combined for a unique rendition of Puccini's aria "Nessun Dorma" that this truly became an unforgettable evening.

From what evolved as a program of individual performances par excellence, the evening concluded with this rousing all-performers finale of one of opera's most stirring numbers, its power pulling the audience to its feet in rapturous applause.

By any measure, this was a unique night at the opera and Professor Zhu had succeeded in reinforcing the ethos of CEIBS in the year of its 15th anniversary.


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